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Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

3 Common Mistakes of Addicts’ Families

SOURCE: Taken from an article by 

Families of addicts feel desperate to help their loved ones stop abusing drugs or alcohol. However, if their desperate, though understandable, responses to their loved one’s behavior are not informed by biblical principles, they will unwittingly and sometimes tragically do more harm than good. Here are some of the common mistakes families of addicts make, followed by tips on how to help families become aware of what they need to change.

Mistake #1: Trying to control the addict

Sometimes families try to control the behavior of an addicted member by limiting that person’s access to funds, monitoring his or her time, or keeping constant tabs on the addict’s whereabouts.

Unfortunately, this approach frustrates the addict and becomes an excuse for him or her to entrench deeper into drug or alcohol abuse. Though trying to control a loved one’s addiction is counterproductive, it is understandable. Families are desperate to keep their loved one from taking illegal drugs or drinking alcohol. And they may experience a small measure of peace when they know their loved one isn’t getting into trouble. But such a high level of control is impossible to maintain in the long term. Plus, exerting so much control stresses out family members who end up becoming more aware of all the many things they can’t control while trying to police their loved one. Dr. Joseph Troncale, medical director at Retreat Premiere Addiction Treatment Centers in Lancaster County, PA, says, “Family members with addicted loved ones would do well to consider becoming familiar with Al-Anon1 principles: (1) you didn’t CAUSE the addiction; (2) you can’t CONTROL the addiction; and (3) you can’t CURE the addiction.”

Mistake #2: Enabling the addict

Trying to love the addict, some family members enable that person to continue his or her destructive behavior. “They’re trying to please this family member and make him or her happy, and they do so in ways that are just encouraging sin. Rather than taking a stand and reproving, they’re encouraging the sin to take place,” said Dr. Mark Shaw, executive director of Vision of Hope in Lafayette, IN, and an ordained minister, biblical counselor, and certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor.2

The family may also enable out of fear of losing the relationship (e.g., a child has threatened never to speak to his parents again if they don’t pay his rent) or of violent retaliation (an addict may lash out violently if kept from her drug of choice). If fear for one’s safety motivates an enabling situation, you should address this first.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the needs of other family members

Often, families ignore the needs of other family members by focusing all their attention on caring for the addict. When this happens, those who are ignored can become bitter toward their parents or their addicted family member because the addict receives all of the attention, time, and resources. Siblings become bitter because their college funds are used to fund rehab. Spouses give up on marriages because their partners are consumed with their child’s addiction. Children who would excel in school don’t because a parent’s addiction robs them of the support and encouragement they’d typically receive. Neglected family members are often tempted to turn to unhelpful ways of coping with the pain and instability caused by living with an addict.

How to help the families of addicts recognize the effects of their actions

While it may be clear to you that the family is hurting their loved one or that they are not acting in his or her best interest, the family members may not be aware of this. In fact, they may believe that their approach is wise, is in the best interest of the family, and keeps the loved one from living on the street. So how do you get them to see what they’re doing wrong?

One of the best ways to do this is to ask them questions that help them see the effect their behavior is having upon their loved one. Author, counselor, and CareLeader.org’s own Dr. Jeff Forrey says that questions should elicit facts that help loved ones see the consequences of their actions.

He also points out that while it is important to help people understand the impact of their choices, it’s also important for family members to realize what’s not happening as a result of their choices. For example, ignoring the actions of an addicted family member may keep the peace, but the addict does not learn how his or her behavior is affecting others, and family members do not learn how to deal with conflict. Devoting hours to controlling behavior may not seem detrimental to the mother of an addict until she is led to realize how other family members are being neglected.

Guiding families to wiser responses

Once family members become aware of the immediate consequences of their behavior, you can also help them think through the long-term implications of their behavior. Once they realize the futility of their actions, here are a few truths that you may want to guide families of addicts to realize.

Truths for those who tend to control
Help family members realize there is so much that they can’t control. Consider reminding the family that God is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation and that He is able to rescue and work all things for good. Philippians 3:21 reminds us that His power “enables him to bring everything under his control.”

Families attempting to control an addict often fear the consequences of addiction. Remind them that God has a history of using bad things—even the consequences of sin—for good and, ultimately, His glory. This is a difficult truth for family members to accept, especially because ultimately it means wrestling with the idea that God could use even the death of their loved one for His purposes. Even the most mature believers may struggle to be at peace with the simultaneously heartbreaking and comforting realities of God’s sovereignty. So be patient with families struggling to embrace the idea that God is in control.

You can also explore other possible motives family members may have for trying to control the addict. A desire to keep others from finding out about the situation can be problematic, for example, when it is rooted in the family’s desire to protect its own reputation.

You can explain to families that the addict is worshipping the substance: the alcohol or drug has become his or her god, and no amount of human control can break the bonds of spiritual slavery at play.

As you suggest new ways family members can interact with the addict, a simple verse like Proverbs 3:5 can help family members: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Encourage family members to pray and trust that the Holy Spirit will help them learn to embrace God’s ways of responding to sin and not trust their instincts.

Truths for those who enable
Remind families with tendencies to enable that protecting the addict from experiencing the consequences of the behavior shows a wrong understanding of how God loves His children. The family members may think they are showing God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy, but forget that God still allows His children to reap what they’ve sown. When dealing with an addict, Christians can and should allow people to experience the consequences of their behavior.

Proverbs 3:12 reminds us of another side of God’s love: “The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” And Ephesians 5:11 states that Christians are not called to hide but to bring to light the sins of others: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

When counseling an addict’s family, help them consider whether their response is somehow facilitating addictive behavior. Disciplining an adult child, spouse, or other adult family member may not be possible or appropriate. But you can help them see that taking steps to stop destructive behavior (not enabling, but allowing people to experience the consequences of their behavior) is consistent with God’s character.

Psychiatric Meds: Should I or Not?

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick/CareLeader

“Pastor, should I take psychiatric meds?”

Let’s begin this discussion by placing the question in the correct category—whether an individual chooses to use psychotropic medication in his struggle with mental illness is a wisdom decision, not a moral decision. If someone is thinking, “Would it be bad for me to consider medication? Is it a sign of weak faith? Am I taking a shortcut in my walk with God?” then he is asking important questions (the potential use of medication) but placing them in the wrong category (morality instead of wisdom).

 Better questions would be:
  • How do I determine if medication would be a good fit for me and my struggle?
  • What types of relief should I expect medication to provide, and what responsibilities would I still bear?
  • How would I determine if the relief I’m receiving warrants the side effects I may experience?
  • How do I determine the initial length of time I should be on medication?

In order to answer these kinds of questions, I would recommend a six-step process. This process will, in most cases, take six months or more to complete. But it often takes many months for doctors and patients to arrive at the most effective medication option, so this process does not elongate the normal duration of finding satisfactory medical treatment.

Having an intentional process is much more effective than making reactionary choices when the emotional pain (getting on medication) or unpleasant side effects (getting off medication) push a person to “just want to do something different.” With a process in place, it is much more likely that what is done will provide the necessary information to make important decisions about the continuation or cessation of medication.

Preface: This six-step process assumes that the individual considering medication is not a threat to self or others, and is capable of fulfilling basic life responsibilities related to personal care, family, school, and work. If this is not the case, then a more prompt medical intervention or residential care would be warranted.

If you are unsure how well your church member is functioning, then encourage him to begin with a medical consultation or counseling relationship. If he would like more time with his doctor than a diagnostic and prescription visit, suggest that he ask the receptionist if he can schedule an extended time with the physician for consultation on his symptoms and options.

Step 1: Assess life and struggle

Most struggles known as mental illness do not have a body-fluid test (i.e., blood, saliva, or urine) to verify their presence. We do not know a “normal range” for neurotransmitters like we do for cholesterol. The activity of the brain is too dynamic to make this kind of simple number test easy to obtain. Gaining neurological fluid samples would be highly intrusive and more traumatic than the information would be beneficial. Brain scans are not currently cost-effective for this kind of medical screening and cannot yet give us the neurotransmitter differentiation we would need.

For these reasons, the diagnosis for whether a mental illness has a biological cause is currently a diagnosis-by-elimination in most cases. However, an important part of your church member’s initial assessment should be a visit to his primary care physician. Encourage your church member to:

  • Clearly describe the struggles/symptoms he is experiencing.
  • Describe when each struggle/symptom began.
  • Describe the current severity of each struggle/symptom and how it developed.

As the person prepares for this medical visit, it would be important for him to also consider:

  • What important life events, transitions, or stressors occurred around the time his struggle began?
  • What is the level of life-interference he is experiencing as a result of his struggle?
  • What lifestyle or relational changes would significantly impact the struggle that he’s facing?

Step 2: Make needed nonmedical changes

Medication will never make us healthier than our current choices allow. Our lifestyle is the “ceiling” for our mental health; we will never be sustainably happier than our beliefs and choices allow. Medication can correct some biological causes and diminish the impact of environmental causes to our struggles. But medication cannot raise one’s mental health potential above what that person’s lifestyle allows.

Too often people want medication to make over their unhealthy life choices in the same way they expect a multivitamin to transform an unhealthy diet. They assume that the first step toward feeling better is receiving a diagnosis and prescription. This may be the case, and there is no shame if it is, but it need not be the guiding assumption.

Encourage your church member to look at the lifestyle, beliefs, and relational changes that his assessment in step 1 would require. If there are choices he could make to reduce the intensity of his struggle, is he willing to make them? Undoubtedly these changes will be hard, or he would have already done so. But let him know that they are essential if he wants to use medication wisely.

As your church member identifies these changes, he should assess the areas of sleep, diet, and exercise. Sleep is vital to the replenishing of the brain. Diet is the beginning of brain chemistry—our body can create neurotransmitters only from the nutrition we provide it. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular, has many benefits for countering the biological stress response (a primary contributor to poor mental health). The first “prescription” should be eight hours of sleep, a balanced diet high in antioxidants, and cardiovascular exercise for at least thirty minutes three days a week.

A key indicator of whether your church member is using psychotropic medication wisely is whether he is using medication (a) as a tool to assist him in making needed lifestyle and relational changes, or (b) as an alternative to having to make these changes. Option A is wise. Option B results in overmedication or feeling like “medication didn’t work either” as he continually tries to compensate medically for the volitional neglect of his mental health.

Step 3: Determine the nonmedicated baseline for mood and life functioning

This is an important, and often neglected, step. Any medication is going to have side effects. The most frequent reason people stop taking psychotropic medications, other than cost, is because of their side effects.

If your church member is not careful, he will merely want to feel better than he does “now.” Initially “now” will be how he feels without medication. Later “now” will be how he feels with medication’s side effects. In order to avoid this unending cycle, there needs to be a baseline of how he feels when he lives optimally off of medication.

One of the reasons postulated for why placebos often have as beneficial an effect as psychotropic medication is the absence of side effects. Those who take a placebo get all the benefits of hope (doing something they expect to improve their life) without any unpleasant side effects. Getting the baseline measurement of how life goes when one simply practices “good mental hygiene” is an important way to account for this effect.

“As I practice medicine these days, my first question when a patient comes with a new problem is not what new disease he has. Now I wonder what side effects he is having and which drug is causing it,” says Charles D. Hodges, MD, in his book Good Mood Bad Mood.

There is another often overlooked benefit of step 3. Frequently people get serious about living more healthily at the same time life has gotten hard enough to begin taking medication. This introduces two interventions (medication and new life practices), maybe three or four (often people also begin counseling or being more open with friends who offer care and support), at the same time. It becomes very difficult to discern which intervention accounts for their improvements.

Writing out his answers to the following questions will help your church member discern if he needs to move on to step 4 and make the needed assessment in step 5.

  • What were the struggles that initially made me think I might benefit from medication?
  • How intense were these struggles, and how did they manifest themselves?
  • What changes did I make in my lifestyle and relationships to alleviate these struggles?
  • How effective was I at being able to make the needed changes?
  • How much relief did the lifestyle and relational changes provide for my struggles?
  • How do I anticipate medication would assist me in being more effective at these changes?

Step 4: Begin a medication trial

If your church member’s struggles persist to a degree that is impairing his day-to-day functioning, then you should encourage him to seek out a psychiatrist or other physician for advisement about medical options. In this conversation, he should consider asking the physician the following questions:

  • What are the different medication options available for the struggle I’m facing?
  • What does each medication do that impacts this struggle?
  • What are the most common side effects for each medication?
  • How long does it take this medication before it is in full effect?
  • If I choose to come off this medication, what is the process for doing so?
  • What have been the most common affirmations and complaints of other patients on this medication?

These questions should help him work with his doctor to determine which medication would be best for him. Remind your church member that he has a voice in this process and should seek to be an informed consumer with his medical treatment, in the same way he would for any other product or service.

In this consultation your church member will also want to decide upon the initial period of time to remain on the medication (unless he experiences a significant side effect from it). In determining this length of time, he would want to consider:

  • His physician or psychiatrist will make recommendations based upon additional factors (beyond the scope of this article)
  • Staying on the medication a minimum of at least twice the length of time it takes to reach its full effect
  • Significant life stressors that would predictably arise during this trial period (e.g., planning a wedding)
  • How long it would take to make and solidify changes that were difficult to make without medication (see step 3)

Once this set period of time is determined, your church member’s goal is to continue implementing the changes he began in step 3 while monitoring (a) the level of progress in his area of struggle and (b) any side effects from the medication.

Step 5: Assess level of progress against medication side effects

Near the end of the trial period, your church member should return to the life assessment questions he answered at the end of step 3. He should compare his ability to enjoy and engage life at this point with his answers then. The questions to ask are:

  • What benefits have I seen while on medication?
  • What side effects have I experienced?
  • Is there reason to believe my continued improvement is contingent upon my continued use of medication?
  • Are the side effects of medication worth the benefit it provides?

The more specific he was in his answers at the end of step 3, the easier it will be for him to evaluate his experience at the end of step 5. At this point, encourage him to try to be neither pro-medication nor anti-medication. His goal is to live as full and enjoyable a life as possible. It is neither better nor worse if medication is part of that optimal life.

Step 6: Determine whether to remain on medication

At this point in the process there are several options available to the individual; this is more than a yes/no decision. But any option should be decided in consultation with the prescribing physician or psychiatrist. Your church member can decide to:

  • Remain on medication because the effects are beneficial and the side effects are minimal or worth it.
  • Opt to stage off the medication because the benefits were minimal or the side effects were worse than the benefits.
  • Stage off the medication to see if the progress he made can be maintained without medication, knowing that if not, he is free to resume the medication without any sense of failure.
  • Opt to try a different medication for another set period of time based on what he learned from the initial experience.

Regardless of what he chooses, by following this process he can have the assurance that he is making an informed decision about what is the best choice for him.

How Worry Affects You (and others)

SOURCE:  Tim Lane/CareLeader

Surprising ways worry affects your people

Any quick search on Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know: worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe a person’s worrying is. Most of the people in your church can probably identify many of these anxiety-producing experiences.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way people in your congregation are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on one’s overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word worry comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word anxiety is of Indo-Germanic origin, referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.

Statistics reveal that nearly 20 percent of people living in the United States will experience life-debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions.

What would the doctor say?

Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest, and some kind of meditation is a proven help to the person  struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that you could share with those imprisoned by worry?

While these things are important, the people in your church also need to know how to connect to God when worries come. We all need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful. Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must undergird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.

What would Jesus say?

Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where He encouraged people not to worry, He did so with compassion because He knew firsthand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, He spoke these encouraging words to anxious people: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but His command is one of encouragement, not shame.

Here are a few simple but profound phrases and truths based upon that passage that you can share with those in your congregation.

Do not be afraid …

Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and He gets right to the point because He loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word worry that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of His teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).

Little flock …

Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words:little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, He speaks to you as one who belongs to Him, whom He is shepherding and for whom He laid down His life. You are unimaginably dear to Him and loved by Him. You are one of His sheep. Be reassured—He cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget Him and His care and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of His flock.

For your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom …

Your Father is not only going to care for you now, He is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now, because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.

With all of this in mind, encourage those in your congregation to allow the truth of God’s care for them to work its way into their daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When we begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, we may find that our tendency to worry will lessen and our response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.

Living With A Narcissist

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Les Carter/CareLeader

Helping those living with a narcissist

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is defined as a personality so consumed with self that the individual is unable to consistently relate to the feelings, needs, and perceptions of others.

Why is it so difficult for someone to live with a narcissist?

It is quite challenging to live with a narcissist since chronically controlling and exploitive behavior is at the core of this personality, and over time narcissists have a knack for generating exasperation in those who simply want to relate with equality and respect.

Anyone can be self-centered. What makes a person a narcissist?

When we refer to a narcissistic personality, we acknowledge that self-absorption is not just present, but it is the defining feature. Even when they appear helpful or friendly, narcissists eventually illustrate that their good behavior has a self-serving hook on the end of it. (“Now you owe me.”)

What are some indicators that someone is a narcissist?

Key indicators of a full-blown narcissistic personality include an inability to empathize; expecting special favors; an attitude of entitlement; manipulative or exploitive behaviors; hypersensitivity when confronted; being loose with “facts”; extremes in emotional reactions, both positive and negative; idealism; an unwillingness to deal with reality; an insatiable need for control; the need to be in the superior or favored position; and an ability to make initial positive impressions.

How can someone have a healthy relationship with a narcissist?

I know it seems pessimistic for me to state this, but when someone engages with a narcissist, he or she cannot afford to think “normally.” Normal relationships have an ebb and flow of cooperation, something a narcissist knows little about. (Keep in mind, the narcissist thinks he or she is unique, meaning above the standards of everyone else.)

Is it wise to try and reform the narcissist?

While it is tempting to plead or debate with the narcissist, such efforts will only increase one’s aggravation. The narcissist has no interest speaking as one equal to another. The narcissist must win, meaning the other person must lose. There is a very small probability that person will respond to another person’s good comments with, “I really needed to hear that. Thanks for the input.” Don’t waste emotional energies by bargaining, insisting, or convincing.

How should someone communicate with a narcissist?

A very predictable tactic of the narcissist is to argue the merits of one’s beliefs or needs. This strategy draws a person into a debate that will never end well for the person (Prov. 26:4). The good news is that the hurting spouse is not required to be a master debater, and in fact, after the spouse has explained his or her thoughts and feelings once, those words do not need to be repeated. For instance, when the narcissist continues to argue, instead of being sucked in, a person can say something like, “I know we differ, but I’m comfortable with my decision.” When receiving the predictable pushback, he or she can say, “I’m comfortable with my decision, so I’ll stick with my plans.” No debate, no needless justification.

Why is it important for those living with a narcissist to demonstrate a belief in their own dignity?

Someone may often feel poorly about him- or herself since a narcissist so readily discounts that person, leaving the person to wonder, “What’s so awful about me?” Encourage the person not to fall into that trap. Contrary to the narcissist’s assumption, one’s dignity is a God-given gift, and it does not vary due to the narcissistic person’s invalidations (Ps. 139:13–14). Encourage the person who feels poorly to connect with friends and associates who understand how relationships can be anchored in mutual regard.

What can a person do to stay at peace with a narcissist?

Narcissists can stubbornly persuade and coerce, telling others how to think and behave. Being inebriated with correctness, they quickly turn discussions into a battle for dominance. The best way for a person to be in control of him- or herself is to drop the illusion that he or she can control the narcissist, and also to remember that sometimes there’s only so much one can do to keep the peace (Rom. 12:18).


Additional resources

For more detailed instruction on how to live with a narcissistic/self-centered spouse, see Brad Hambrick’s free online resource Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse. It’s a helpful guide you can use to help spouses develop Christ-centered strategies to deal with a narcissist. The resource is also designed for self-study.

9 Things You Should Know About Autism

SOURCE: taken from an article by  thegospelcoalition.org · Joe Carter

Here are nine things you should know to help raise awareness and prepare you to minister to those with ASD.

1. Autism is the common term used to refer to Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder that involves abnormal development and function of the brain. People with autism show decreased social communication skills and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors or interests. (Throughout the rest of this article autism will be referred to as ASD.)

2. The term autism (from Greek autos ‘self’ + -ism, a form of “morbid self-absorption”) was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 to refer to a subset of childhood schizophrenia. However, the first-ever clinical account of the disorder didn’t appear until 1943 when Leo Kanner, a pioneer in child psychiatry, published “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Disorder.” Around that same time Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger wrote about the condition and noticed that many of the children he identified as being autistic were able to use their behaviors to their vocational advantage in adulthood. Asperger’s work was relatively unknown until 1981 when Lorna Wing coined the term “Asperger syndrome” in her paper on the condition.

3. Prior to 2013, autism was considered one of five different pervasive developmental disorders that included Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not-Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Rett’s Syndrome. In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V), and the five disorders were subsumed under the diagnosis of ASD. (You can read the diagnostic criteria for the disorder here.)

4. Estimates are that 14.6 per 1,000 (one in 68) children aged 8 years are affected by the condition. ASD is estimated to be about four times higher among boys (23.6 per 1,000 or 1 in 42) than among girls (5.3 per 1,000 or 1 in 189), and significantly higher among non-Hispanic white children (15.5 per 1,000) compared with non-Hispanic black children (13.2 per 1,000), and Hispanic children (10.1 per 1,000).

5. The causes of ASD remain unknown, though it appears to have a strong genetic component. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other will be affected between 36 percent and 95 percent of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other is affected about 0 percent to 31 percent of the time. Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2 percent to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected. ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions. About 10 percent of children with autism are also identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders. ASD commonly co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. The co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD developmental diagnoses is 83 percent, and the co-occurrence of one or more psychiatric diagnoses is 10 percent.

6. Despite nearly 30 years of research, there has been no causal connection established between vaccinations and ASD. The claim that vaccines caused ASD was given credence in 1998, though, by the publication of a fraudulent research paper in the British medical journal The Lancet. That paper was later retracted when it was discovered that the chief researcher, a British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield, had manipulated the data and failed to disclose that he had been paid more than $600,000 by lawyers looking to win a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Wakefield also was found to have committed numerous breaches in medical ethics, and in May 2010 British regulators revoked Wakefield’s license, finding him guilty of “serious professional misconduct.” They concluded that his work was “irresponsible and dishonest” and that he had shown a “callous disregard” for the children in his study. Despite being discredited for fraud and unethical conduct, Wakefield is still considered the primary source and champion for those who believe there is a connection between vaccines and ASD.

7. ASD imposes a significant economic burden on families. Children and adolescents with ASD had average medical expenditures that exceeded those without ASD by $4,110 to $6,200 per year, the CDC notes. On average, medical expenditures for children and adolescents with ASD were 4.1 to 6.2 times greater than for those without ASD. In addition to medical costs, intensive behavioral interventions for children with ASD cost $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year.

8. ASD can also impose a significant disadvantage later in life. A study found that for youth with a ASD, only 34.7 percent had attended college (in comparison, about 68 percent of all U.S. students enroll in college after high school graduation, and about half will graduate). Additionally, only 55.1 percent had held paid employment during the first six years after high school. More than 50 percent of youth with ASD who had left high school in the past two years had no participation in employment or education. Youth with ASD had the lowest rates of participation in employment, and the highest rates of no participation compared with youth in other disability categories.

9. While there is no cure for ASD, children who receive therapies and behavioral interventions—especially when begun early in life—can have improved symptoms as they reach adolescence and adulthood. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes also notes that families and siblings of children often need help with coping with the special challenges that come with having a family member with ASD.

Are You A Bad Listener Or A Good Listener?

SOURCE:  Deepak Reju/Biblical Counseling Coalition

Tommy’s wife often gets frustrated because Tommy just doesn’t seem to care when she tries to have a conversation with him. As she walks into the living room to talk with him, his eyes stay glued to the television. As she talks, it seems like she gets very little of his attention. “Uh-uh…sure dear…uh-uh…whatever you want,” he’ll say, all the while never making eye contact with her.

Here is what she wants—nothing extravagant. She wants him to turn off the television, turn to face her, and give her his undivided attention. But he never does.

What Is a Bad Listener?

Are you a bad listener? What would your spouse or best friend or roommate or children say about you? Would they say you are a bad listener? People tend to think much more highly of themselves than they actually deserve. What would you say? Are you a good or bad listener?

What causes a person to be a poor listener?

Impatient people make for shoddy listeners. An impatient listener is not able to appreciate or be fully engaged in her present circumstances. She is not willing to hear her friend out. She interrupts or cuts him off. In her impatience, she communicates that she doesn’t care about what her friend has to say.

Another killer of conversations is tiredness. In a fast paced society, people don’t rest much. Little or no sleep means you are already exhausted when you begin a conversation, which doesn’t usually lead to a good conversation.

Think about your listening abilities during a Sunday morning sermon. How much do you zone out, especially when you are bored with what the pastor is saying? It is easy for the mind to wander to other things—work, what you’re doing that afternoon, a conversation with a friend or spouse that morning, etc. Zoning out or being easily distracted makes for bad listening.

Or you might tend to interrupt others before they are finished. Your thought is so pressing, or your tongue is so loose, that you blurt things out even before the other person is done speaking.

Impatience, tiredness, zoning out, interrupting—these are just a few of the many reasons why someone can be a poor listener. Do any of these descriptions fit you?

Consider the biblical picture of a bad listener—the proverbial fool.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).

The biblical picture of the fool is one who doesn’t listen and understand, but speaks too quickly. In Proverbs 18:2, the fool finds pleasure only in saying what he wants to say. Because of his pride or selfishness or lack of love, he doesn’t care about understanding. He is impulsive. He answers before he hears. He doesn’t take the time to hear and then speak. In Proverbs 18:13, because of his impulsive speech, he is deemed foolish and shameful. Or as one commentator put it, this impulsive fool is “stupid and a disgrace.”

Are you the proverbial fool? Be honest. If you are, you might need to confess your lack of patience, love, and understanding before the Lord (Psalm 51:3-4), and to someone whom you have been not listening to….

What Is a Good Listener?

Contrast the proverbial fool with the advice we get from the apostle James…

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

James’ encouragement is to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Wisdom and love are displayed in quickly hearing and not speaking.

The profile of a good listener is the opposite of the proverbial fool—patient, energetic, focused. He lets the other person finish without interrupting. Because he is eager to put others before himself, he listens and works hard to understand the other person. He doesn’t think so highly of himself that he regularly speaks before he hears.

Just think about Jesus. Think about His conversations. How engaged He was. How much He listened to others and asked questions in response. How skilled He was at drawing others out, and communicating His sympathy for a person, not just by listening, but by loving them and showing them what ultimately should matter in their life—faith, hope, and love. What would Martha, or Blind Bartimaeus, or the woman at the well, or the disciples say about Jesus? Would they say He was a good listener? Would they say He cared about them and took the time to understand them? Absolutely and positively yes!

Do you want to be like the proverbial fool or do you want to be like Jesus?

Are Pastors Bad Listeners?

Pastors are teachers and preachers. They daily and weekly proclaim God’s Word, and along the way, they grow accustomed to others shutting their mouths to listen. Every Sunday church members sit in silence and listen to the pastor’s words. God’s Word is powerful. It transforms lives. It does not go out void. This is how the kingdom works. God speaks through the instrument of a pastor, and the Word goes out to change hearts and minds. This is all good. And this is God’s redemptive plan.

But transfer this into a counseling room, and things might not go so well. Pastors expect to speak and people to listen. So, after a few minutes of conversation, the pastor might make a few assumptions, speak into a situation with great authority, maybe even quote a Bible passage or two to make his point, and then be done with the matter (and the person for now).

Which one does your pastor resemble in the counseling room—the proverbial fool or Jesus? If you are a pastor, remember: Good shepherding starts with knowing the sheep (John 10:3, 11, 14-15). That requires a lot of you—patience, listening, and understanding the sheep. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Before you say anything, figure out what your member is struggling with and what is motivating him to do what he does. Only after you understand should you then speak into his life.

The Listening Test—How Good or Bad Are You?

A good way to figure out if you are a good listener is to ask those who know you best. Start by rating yourself on a scale of 1 (poorest of listeners) to 10 (best listener on the planet). To test your rating, ask someone who knows you really well what he or she would rate you. Whether they come up with a different number or one similar to your rating, talk about it with them. You can imagine a husband saying to his wife, “Honey, you said I was a 3, but I rated myself as a 7, am I really that bad in your eyes?” Do this test only if you are humble enough to receive someone else’s feedback. If you are not humble enough to receive godly criticism, then don’t ask for it.

The End of the Matter for Listeners

Ultimately, no matter how good or bad you are, listening is a skill that you can grow in, but you never do it apart from God’s strength (Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12) and His grace (Romans 15:15). Work harder at being a better listener; but remember that God is at work in you to make you more like his Son (Philippians 2:12-13; 1 John 3:2). Praise be to God that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

One day, we won’t have to work so hard at listening because we’ll be surrounded by a great throng of believers, from every century, and every part of the world, all praising and singing to God. The singing won’t be overwhelming, but glorious. And there will be no sin—so you and I will be patient, energetic, and focused in our conversations. What a glorious day that will be.

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