I was recently contacted and asked to share my thoughts on how a Christian is supposed to deal with narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths. To some it may seem like an odd request but actually it isn’t at all. One area of my counseling practice is specializing in recovery from toxic relationships and believe me when I say that trying to have a normal relationship with a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath is anything BUT normal. The Hollywood version of how a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath behaves often confuses people and it is after much psychological abuse that someone comes to realize that they were in fact in a very toxic relationship. I think it’s important to know what these relationships look like and there is a great book called “Psychopath Free” by Peace. Here is a link to my book review – “Psychopath Free”.
The topic of how a Christian is supposed to deal with being in a relationship with a very emotionally unhealthy and unsafe person is important because it highlights many significant pitfalls. The reason this becomes an issue is due to the fact that biblical teaching is often taken out of context and used to justify and enable bad behaviors in people. For decades, women who were being physically, emotionally, sexually and psychologically abused by men in their lives were told by pastors that it was their duty to make it work at home and to cook better meals or do other tasks in order to please abusive men. This thinking has permeated church culture. Although nowadays no church in the country would allow a pastor to preach from the pulpit that domestic violence is acceptable, I assure you that individual pastors are still counseling female parishioners that they as women need to bring peace to the home. How do I know this is still happening? I often end up seeing these ladies for counseling. They walked into a pastor’s office with the problem of domestic abuse and came out with the same problem and another one added: it’s their responsibility to fix the abuse by being a better girlfriend, wife or daughter.
This history of placing the blame on the woman when abuse is present has contributed to some Christian women feeling as if they can not set healthy boundaries with men who end up being narcissistic, sociopathic or psychopathic. Now, I should pause here and say that I know men meet, date and sometimes marry narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths and the damage done is just as intensely painful for these men. The question asked of me was about Christians in particular and I do strongly believe that women have been taught to overlook and put up with abuse in ways that Christian men collectively have not. I could be wrong but it’s just my experience of being a Christian for over twenty years and having been actively involved in churches and previously on ministry staff.
What are Christians supposed to do when interacting with toxic people? I think remembering a few key points is very helpful.
A Tree and Its Fruit
Matthew 7:17 says that we will know a good tree by its fruit and a diseased tree by the fruit it bears. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship but are having trouble with setting what you know to be healthy boundaries, think about the fruit of your interactions with the abusive person. Do you feel anxious, not like your normal self, depressed or like you are living in a chaotic emotional tornado? Is that good or bad fruit? We both know the answer to that question and it’s bad fruit. Bad fruit produced by a bad tree.
God Will Change Him/Her
No, He won’t. Sorry to be so short and blunt about it but God will not change a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. How do I know this to be true? Because I have never, not once, ever, never seen someone changed by God who didn’t want to be changed. Think about it for a minute. Has anyone ever gone to bed a complete high-grade jerk and woke up radically transformed into the loving image of Jesus? Nope. Now I have seen a whole lot of people do a whole lot of praying and soul searching and surrendering and the such and then became completely new people. It’s actually one of my favorite things about the blessings of God. Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths don’t think there is anything wrong with them. It’s part of their disordered thinking that convinces them everyone else is wrong. They are incapable of change. Speaking of change, go ahead and take a look at my blog about the Four Levels Of Change. Don’t believe me? Think about a clinically narcissistic person and the truly positive lasting change that occurred within them. Can’t think of any? Neither can I and I am a therapist.
As Christians, we have to remember that scripture says that God is a gentleman and will go where He is welcomed. He doesn’t kick down doors to get to people who feel they have no need for Him. So if you’re staying stuck in a toxic situation with a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath and waiting for God to instantly change him or her, you are seriously wasting months if not years of your life. This thinking is a trap and can become a prison cell in which people stay self-imposed.
I Need To Lead Him /Her To Christ
When the topic of setting boundaries with toxic people comes up, I often hear Christians say that they are concerned about turning their backs on someone because they see it as their duty to lead that person to God. If someone is an evangelical Christian and believes that introducing a non-believer to God is their calling, then I can completely understand the pressure these people feel in cutting ties with unsaved toxic people. If you’re a predestination person, that pressure is different but still a difficult situation.
Whether a person is evangelical or not, staying safe and not becoming a door mat is vitally critical to our own well being. Once we lose our joy and our hope and our peace, we certainly can’t share those beautiful attributes with other people. If the narcissist, sociopath or psychopath in your life is causing or has caused you to be less sparkly than you once were, how can you expect to live the life you were given as a gift?
When Christians say that they don’t want to set needed boundaries because they are giving up on someone, I gently remind them that they are being a titch egocentric to think that they and they alone are only who God can use to bring change into the toxic person’s life. We have to be very careful when lies start whispering that we must be the one who brings truth to a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. When we start thinking this way, we have enslaved ourselves to more abuse in all its various forms.
If you are a Christian and in a toxic relationship, ask yourself what fruit is this relationship bringing to your life. Good fruit or poisoned fruit? Remind yourself that people only change when they see a need and are willing to change. Lastly, you are not the only person on the planet who God can use to reach toxic people.
Does a particular toxic person come to mind and what boundaries do you need to set in order to fully enjoy your life again?