Thursday, June 3, 2010

Breaking Free of Victim Mentality: Narcissism, Patriarchy, and the Locus of Control

Part of the problem with patriarchy involves the idea that by living a certain way, that behavior will have a controlling effect on other people.  If the wife behaves properly, her husband will become more “godly,” and this will not only give her the kind of husband she wants but will provide her with self-worth and identity.  Much of the book by the Botkin Sisters, “So Much More,” promotes this idea, suggesting that men can’t be the men God wants them to be without intervention on behalf the women in their lives.  Women need to prop up their men, be they daughters or wives, but this idea sells so well in the book because the mindset and theology strip women of much independent identity, authority, and worth.  Everyone needs to feel significant and valued, and patriarchy encourages followers to find these things in performance, outcome, and outward appearance.  I suppose this system works well for people who are very physically healthy and are enjoying pleasant seasons in life.  Things work well during fair weather.

On a more basic level, these beliefs suggest that we can have control over events in our lives if we follow “THE” formula, and assumption that life tends to be fair (if you do all of the right things).  Life is even more “fair” for those who are elite among the elect like the leaders and model citizens.   Under patriarchy, following a particular “law” yields particular results when those results have been properly merited, especially concerning spiritual things according to patriarchy’s mindset.  I recently spoke with a wife whose husband has a problem with a particular sin.  She admitted that she became involved with patriarchy because she believed that it would somehow make him stop engaging in this sin.  Her husband didn’t like the ideology, as many men don’t at first, but he definitely enjoyed the benefits that came with his dutiful wife’s submission after awhile.  Soon, he felt entitled to those benefits, just as he felt entitled to his particular sin.  Ahhhh.  There is that “entitlement” word again.

 We can certainly derive good feelings of satisfaction from our accomplishments and our good character, but this poses a problem if positive outcomes serve as our only source of worth and stability.  If we get a bad outcome, we loose almost everything.  Wise and responsible choices can produce very good outcomes, but many people who often do all of the right things for all of the right reasons can experience very negative circumstances because life is not fair.  Several examples in Scripture remind me of this, including James 1 which says that the double-minded man is unstable, as his thoughts will allow him to be pulled around by his circumstances.  I think of Paul’s statement that we walk by faith and not by sight, or Hebrews “Hall of Faith,” which lists great examples of people who believed God in spite of not receiving or possessing that for which they desired and believed.  The wise man who built his house upon a rock did not suffer loss when the storms came, just as the man who finds his security from within himself based upon faith in Christ.  As foolish man builds his house upon the sand which is quickly destroyed when the storms of life come, those who look to circumstances, other fallible human beings, and their own abilities will find that these things will also disappoint and fail them.

In the mid 1950s, researchers who were investigating personality described this sense of peace and stability as what called the “locus of control.”  People who have a realistic belief and understanding regarding what they can legitimately control and what is beyond their control are much more optimistic and have less depression and anxiety.  Their stability comes from faith and optimism about who they are inside, not from circumstances or how others feel about them because those things can change.

In terms of the narcissist themselves, their internal emptiness and insecurity causes them to look outside of themselves for reasons to feel good about themselves.   They crave attention and power like an addict craves a drug, and they look to these outward things to fill their emptiness and to compensate for their powerlessness.  They avoid direct conflict, because direct and assertive conflict puts them into touch with their powerlessness, almost making them feel deprived of what they need to survive emotionally.  Like a small child who cannot get their way, the narcissist can feel injured quite easily when circumstances do not provide for their needs.  It really is a very sad way to live, because everything depends on outcome.  For this reason, narcissists are generally very perfectionistic, because they learn to believe quite quickly that good performance brings lots of benefits.  On the days when everything that can go wrong does go wrong, they are left with great internal emotional distress.

One of the very best things that you can do to help yourself cope with a narcissist involved the bolstering up of your own locus of control.  No one can control other people, and even God does not cause us to be controlled by the Spirit.  We yield to the Holy Spirit and must make continual choices to follow the Spirit.  So the healthiest way to preserve yourself when dealing with a narcissist involves taking control of yourself by focusing on your own behavior.  Let God deal with the other person, and trust Him to direct the outcomes, no matter what they are.  Harriet Braiker’s book, “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” offers ideas about how to make yourself into a “hardened target,” by “cleaning the bugs in your mental computer” including ideas about how to develop a stronger internal locus of control.  She suggests recording your weak target and automatic thoughts in a daily journal (thoughts that Dr. James Dobson used to call “tapes” or automatic sound byte recordings from childhood that play in your head), then work on replacing them with true ideas.  This is also the same process that the Christian author, Chris Thurman, teaches in his book, “The Lies We Believe.” 

Braiker says that, “If you adopt a generalized view of life that what happens to you is far more in the control of other people than in your own, you can pretty much expect lifelong victim status in manipulative relationships.  It stands to reason that if you believe that other people are supposed to be in control of what happens to you, they will be” (pg. 232).  If this is the case, then patriarchy creates victims by teaching women and children that they have drastically limited rights and personal power.  They also do so through teaching that spiritual merit and power comes through compliance with formulas, focusing on the outward signs of faith instead of the pursuit of faith and the work of the Spirit.  We have no guarantees of a charmed life when we become Christians, and our faith will be tried and proven by our circumstances, a process that James Chapter 1 says works both patience and perfection into us.  Some individuals do all the right things and experience lousy circumstances, and God uses very different circumstances to take us where He wants us to be.  Yet patriarchy criticizes, judges, ostracizes, and sometimes shuns those who fail to demonstrate the outward signs of success in the paradigm, despite inward faith and belief.

One corrected “hard target thought” related to locus of control that Braiker offers explains that,
Instead of focusing on what I cannot change or control, I am going to put my effort into things that I can control.  Believing that I am helpless makes me feel powerless and depressed.  Believing that I can make my own life better – in big and small ways – is motivating and positive (pg. 234).

The chapter of Braiker’s book includes other core areas that also overlap and bolster locus of control, and working on building strength in all of them will help a person stand strong when trying to communicate effectively with a narcissist.  Developing a strong locus of control from the inside by knowing who we are and believing in our own strength (which comes from who we are in Christ for Believers) proves to be the most important means of resisting manipulation.  It also helps those who are family members of narcissists, giving them wisdom to be able to see their loved ones in a more compassionate light.

Check back soon for at least one more post about communicating effectively with narcissists….