When Narcissism Comes to Church:
Healing your community from emotional and spiritual abuse
By Chuck DeGroat (InterVarsity Press)
This publication caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, Chuck DeGroat noted his personal experience of encountering those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Second, DeGroat found a higher rate of people suffering from this in church planting situations. My ears perked up, because the church we are affiliated with is serious about planting churches. It is a plant from a similar church, and church starting is in its DNA. Additionally, looking at the contemporary Christian scene and political scene, we have a front row seat to narcissism at work. When I ran the mental health department for a prison, I also saw this personality up front and personal while working with offenders and staff. I also began to understand other folks in whose orbit I found myself through my years of ministry and counseling who probably suffered from debilitating narcissism.
DeGroat’s perspective and work are anchored in humility and grace. He identifies those in the news who most likely suffer from NPD, but moves on to ask, “What shapes this personality disorder?” Some reoccurring themes appear in his book. He speaks of the power of shame and how NPD is an attempt to cover, placate and deflect the brokenness. Add insecurity, which attempts to cover for a lack of confidence but shows arrogance instead. He also mentions again and again a “lack of curiosity.” All of this could be identified as NPD being a “shame-based identity.”
DeGroat uses the Enneagram as a foundation for his consideration of the issues related to narcissism. While I am not versed in this test, it has some appeal in the business and Christian world. DeGroat considers these categories: heart types as shame-based; head types as anxiety-based; and gut body types as anger-based. Building on insights from the personality types and his own wounds and experience, he offers grace to those who have suffered from the abuse of a narcissistic person/leader/spouse.
DeGroat not only explores the inner life of the narcissist but also sheds some light on those parts of us broken and yet unredeemed. Erik Berne’s transactional analysis—developed in the 1960s—talked about the child, parent and adult in each of us. It suggests there are parts of us that are flawed, broken and painful—perhaps rooted in childhood through experience or perception. Childhood trauma is profound, deep and lifelong for many. The child does not have the coping skills an adult can learn and use. The narcissist’s outer shell is designed to deflect the inner pain, failings and trauma.
This book has value because it may introduce a person to someone in his or her orbit who is a narcissist. It also extends grace and challenge to us to face those facets of our inner life still untouched by the grace of Christ. In our rush to be righteous, we often decide what is acceptable brokenness and what is not. The truth is that broken is broken. As individuals and churches, we should give each other grace as we ask God’s grace to heal us.
Michael Chancellor, counselor