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Narcissism in a Blended Family: Ron Deal

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
April 21, 2023 5:15 am

Narcissism in a Blended Family: Ron Deal

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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April 21, 2023 5:15 am

Is narcissism a reality or a label in your blended family? Therapist Ron Deal helps you look deeper and know how to deal.

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If you've been living or in a relationship with somebody with narcissistic personality disorder, you're going to walk away with some bruises on your hearts. You're going to walk away feeling beat up and hurt. And when you begin to really step back and look at that, there were moments where you felt like, I must be going crazy. I'm the one who's messed up. And then you step back and you realize, no, there was this manipulative environment going on. The way they interacted with me and the way they interact currently with me makes me feel small or insignificant and it's always their way.

And so, yeah, this is not me, but it's certainly left a hurt on me. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. Well, I say it's a really good day today because you know why. I do know why. Because I'm with you. Because Ron is with us.

It's like the Holy Spirit being with us. Yeah, we've got Ron Deal. What? You're comparing Ron Deal to the Holy Spirit?

Did I just hear that? Anyway, Ron Deal, welcome to Family Life Today. Oh, thank you very much.

Always good to be with you guys. And no, I am not the Holy Spirit. That's quite a compliment, but let's not go there. Let's just ask Nan. That's all we'd have to do is ask Ron's wife. Anyway, as many of you know, Ron's the director of our Family Life blended. And it's always a joy to have you with us, not only because you give a perspective on blended, but you have a sharp mind and a counselor, therapist insight into things. And as you know, we've spent a couple of days with Laurel Slade-Wagoner, who's also a therapist. And she's written a couple of books on Don't Let Their Crazy Make You Crazy on marriage, and then Don't Let Their Crazy Make Your Kids Crazy on parenting. And it's really, as you know, as you've been listening, really talking about narcissistic tendencies in our spouse and bringing that in our home. And it was a very interesting discussion.

But I really am excited to hear your perspective on some of the things we talked about. Well, my fear, Ron, I guess I wouldn't say it's a fear, but it could be a tendency that we could all have, is after listening or reading about narcissism, that we automatically can label people, oh, you're a narcissist, you know? Is there a danger to that? And can we over label someone? And I remember in graduate school studying all these personality disorders and every other page going, oh, I have that. Oh, no, that's me.

Oh, my goodness. I'm the most screwed up person in the history of the universe. And here's the other side of that is I could tend to do the same thing and say, oh, she has that. You know, I think somebody else, my spouse, I don't see it in me, but I see it in them. And they could think this explains everything.

So let's just delineate. There are traits among a lot of what we call mental disorders that all of us have a trait or two. There are moments in my life where I am exceedingly selfish.

Guess what? That's sort of the heart of narcissistic personality disorder. That does not mean you have a personality disorder. As she talked about so aptly, it's a pervasive character quality trait that lasts for an extended period of time. And there's a number of traits that you have to hit. And so the point is this.

When you hear something like that, sometimes we can overdiagnose ourselves, but we really overdiagnose our spouse, our kids, our mother-in-law. And why do we do that? Well, in part because we all love labels, whether it's the Enneagram, what number are you or whatever it is. We sort of love labels because we sort of want to know, OK, this is where I fit. This is where the type of person you are. And this tells me everything about you. Well, again, be careful.

Overdiagnose. I call that freeze framing. You know, OK, you are now this picture for the rest of your life. This is the only image I have of you in my heart.

And now I treat you as if you're that picture all the time. OK, that's a little dangerous. And if we were to weaponize a label and say, oh, you're that, therefore I have no responsibility to you. Therefore, I don't have to open up to you because you're going to abuse me and use it against me or whatever. Now all of a sudden you're letting yourself off the hook because of a label that you've made up about somebody else. So, yeah, of course, be careful. Don't overdiagnose. Certainly don't use labels like that as a tool against someone. But instead see it as, OK, what can I learn about me, about them and about how we interact?

And let that be it. Yeah, I did think, you know, a couple points, Ron, as I was listening to Laurel, I thought, you know, if my spouse exhibits some of these narcissistic tendencies, I could easily think, what am I supposed to do? She said they don't change. So does that mean divorce is my option?

Should I leave? I'm not talking about me personally, but I'm thinking a listener could have easily made that deduction based on some of that conversation. And of course, Laurel would not want anyone to do that. In fact, she agrees with what we do.

Do everything you can to make this marriage work. I want you to hear just how debilitating that thought is. Oh, they're never going to change. This is who you are.

Therefore, I've got to make some extreme decision over here in light of what I now know about you. See, that's debilitating. And in many ways, I think it's self-sabotage.

Let's just stop for a minute. When we think about, quote, personality disorders and all sorts of mental disorders and conditions that we have in life, a void of God, as you guys so aptly talked about with her, void of God and the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Yeah, we're all a little hopeless, but with God, my goodness, all kinds of things can change and grow within us. That's the redemptive work of God.

That's His grace for us in our lives. And so we never, ever really have to feel stuck, I don't think. Now, we could be in really hard situations, and the path forward is not always clear.

But there's always a reason to have hope. Well, Ron, I can't remember when this term, narcissism, became more popular. I can remember that after a lot of marriage conferences, and I'd have women line up to talk to me, it seemed like maybe 30 to 40 percent were saying, I'm married to a narcissist. And I think friends have said that over the years, and what do we do when we're confronted or we even listen to a program with Laurel and think, OK, I'm seeing some signs. What are the next steps that we should make if we're starting to think that? Do we start calling our friend and saying, I'm married to a narcissist?

What do you think we should do? No. Again, I would avoid the labels. That's not productive or healthy. What is healthy is saying, oh, I just learned something. My wife and I had a conversation the other day about Enneagram, and we were like, oh, yeah, Ron's forward thinking about time and Nan's past thinking about time. How do we ever meet in the present? There's a little challenge for us. Now, that doesn't mean I'm always stuck in the future or she's always.

That's the point. We look at the tendency and we say in light of that, what does it now mean? And so we take it with a grain of salt. There's a balanced understanding there of people and personality.

And I want to just add this. Sometimes the context sort of determines or drives when somebody is a certain way. So somebody who has a narcissistic quality about them, that might really pop out in moments where they feel like they've got to perform well. And it's only under pressure that you see that piece of them.

It's not there 24-7. That's a distinctive, by the way, somebody with a personality disorder is that 24-7. That's one of the real differences between somebody who just has a little of this and somebody who has a great quality about it.

And so knowing the context is really helpful. Every one of us, like I said, is selfish at certain moments in our life. Every one of us is controlling, rigid about certain things at certain moments in our life. Well, what are those moments and what's that about? Now, reflecting on that for yourself and for the other person and in a relational dialogue with them about, hey, I think I learned something the other day about you. I'm wondering if this is the way this works for you. That's healthy.

It helps both of you have some insight and shared insight that you can now use to strengthen your relationship, but never create a weapon out of it. You know, Ron, one of the things that Laurel said several times in the two days we talked to her was that a fool, which she often compared to a person with narcissistic tendencies, a fool doesn't say they're sorry. I mean, I definitely picked up this theme that people that grow, people that are humble, at some point they'll say, I own this, I'm sorry, I need to grow, but a narcissistic person is a fool and they don't see it and they don't say they're sorry. Is that what you've seen?

Yes. That's one of those, again, pervasive qualities about somebody with a true personality disorder. That's them 24-7. And in the case of narcissistic personality, they really have a hard time owning who they are, owning mistakes. Some people say that a true narcissist just really believes the world should be in love with me the way I'm in love with me. And some people would say that they have some insecurity in them and that they're trying hard to get everybody to love them because really inside they feel insecure about themselves. Maybe it's a combination of the two.

Who knows? It could be different in any particular case. I think here's the takeaway from that observation, that they have a hard time changing. The spouse, let's say you're the partner of someone who just refuses to repent. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to help them, how to get them, like, what is it I'm not doing that's keeping them from owning up to this piece?

Am I crazy? Did they really say that or did they not really say that? They're telling me they didn't really do that, but I think they did that. And so you start invalidating your own experience and pretty soon you don't know what you believe. You don't trust yourself as well as trusting anybody else. I think it's really important for that person to say, you know what? You did do that. You do act this way. You are mean in this fashion on a regular basis.

I've now got to face that because I've got to make some decisions and I've got to figure out what I do with it. I mean, do you find it hard for followers of Christ to do that as compared to others? Because in some ways it seems like we want to be grace givers. We want to be lovers.

Give you the benefit of the doubt. We want to see the best in one another. And I think I hear a lot of us quote Ephesians 4.15, we know it, speak the truth in love. We don't like the truth.

We like love. We think that's what Jesus would do. Even though we read the Gospels and we're like, oh, Jesus was really a truth teller. And so do you find that it's harder sometimes in Christian relationships to actually confront the sin of our spouse? I haven't found that hard, honey.

Yeah, it's pretty good at it. Absolutely. Because again, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt. We assume they have goodwill and that their goodwill will eventually show up and something in them will change. I think partners or spouses, children, parents, brothers and sisters about a family member absolutely feel stuck in that way because they're invested in the relationship. You're my brother. You know, I want us to have a good relationship.

You're just really hard to get along with. You're my wife. Obviously, I have this deep investment in our marriage and our family.

And so they keep working and working and working. First of all, I don't want to be misunderstood. I'm not saying stop working on your us-ness, on your marriage.

You're just going to work in a little bit different fashion. When you're dealing with a narcissistic personality disordered spouse, it's unreasonable for you to assume they're going to be reasonable. At some level, you've got to understand they just can't. And so for you to keep leaning in, hoping for something means you keep making the same decisions, means you keep acting in the same manner, assuming that they'll eventually come around. And at some point, it's at least helpful to go, you know, I just can't make that assumption anymore. It doesn't mean I'm quitting on the marriage. It doesn't mean I'm walking out. It doesn't mean any of that, nothing that dramatic.

But it just means I'm going to have a different path from this point forward. Let me ask you, Ron, based on this same idea of repentance or apologizing or saying, I'm sorry, I mean, narcissists are all raised in a home. And so I'm thinking as a parent, as I'm listening to this, I'm thinking, teaching our kids how to apologize, how to go to one another in repentance, and before God, that was a value for us. And so can we thwart that as parents?

Is that helpful to teach our kids? Or are you saying this is just a personality disorder that's always there? There's a big argument behind that, you know, personality disorders, are you born with it? Right. And I think often it's a combination of genetics and environment and nurture as well as nature. I lean towards the nurture more than I do the nature. I don't really know the answer.

I don't know that anybody knows the answer to that. I think what we need to take away is, yes, we should teach and train and encourage and foster humility in our own hearts so that our children can see that demonstrated and hopefully they too will have humility. I mean, at the end of the day, guys, if I am willing to get on my knees before an Almighty God and say, teach me, show me, help me, that is going to counter a whole lot of sinful behavior in our life and stuck patterns and behavioral habits, as well as even personality, deeply ingrained behavior patterns that we need to work on. God helps in those situations.

And so, fostering that in our children absolutely is an ounce of prevention that is worth a whole lot of cure later on. And let's say, Ron, you're married to someone with a narcissistic personality disorder. As the mom or the dad who's living with this person, do we explain this to our kids? Like, you know, and maybe your kids say, well, why should I, dad or mom, never apologize? You know, is that something, do you have that conversation?

You know, Laurel talked about that, and she recommended that. In fact, you do have to, at some point in time, talk to your kids and be candid about what they're seeing and the behavior of their other parent. I want to echo that.

I also want to just add, and be careful how you do so. By the way, somebody is listening right now and they're going, yeah, that was my former spouse and my kids still go to their house on a regular basis. And, you know, I'm trying to co-parent with that person. Somebody's listening right now and says, you know, that was a friend or a family member.

Man, that's the pastor at our church, because we all know that happens too. And so, I do think we have to be candid about the realities and choices and things that other people are doing when our children love them. But we can't become hostile or aggressive. Or again, we talked about weaponizing.

You can weaponize that. You know, your mom, she's a crazy person, and don't you ever listen to her, because look at what she does. Like, that is not the heart of Jesus. Even in a very difficult situation where a parent is making decisions that you know are not exemplary of what you're trying to teach or train or help your children to see and understand. Or they're just confusing choices, like narcissism, where your child's constantly trying to figure out, how do I make Mom happy? She just never seems to be happy. I don't love her as much as she thinks I ought to love her. Well, you do have to put words on that for your child and say, I love your mom. Let's talk about how we can love your mom well. And sometimes that means maybe disappointing her, because you're not meeting her every expectation. Maybe that means not joining her in this type of behavior, because it's not helpful for Mom. It's also not going to be helpful for you.

And here's why. God wants to provide for us. He gives us His words and His guidance in Scripture so that we will act in ways that are going to bring flourishing to our life and to the world and represent Him well. That's the biblical teaching part. But what you're doing is you're talking candidly about a parent's behavior and choices, but you're doing it in a way that's grace-filled. Hey, Ron, how does that play out in blended situations, because you might have a child going from one home where maybe there's narcissistic tendencies of one or both parents to a home that doesn't.

And I'm complicating it by adding this in. One may be religious. You know, Laurel quoted Joshua 24, 15, as, from my house we will serve the Lord. Well, the other house isn't. And this son or daughter or several of them are going back and forth, do they confront it? Do they spend only their time with the home that's, you know, seems to be balanced and emotionally healthy? And do they avoid the other?

How do you navigate that? You know, we've talked about this many times on the Family Life Blended podcast, because it is such a regular question that we get into our ministry. We did an episode called Bipolar Values, you know, when your values are, you're trying to teach Christ and the other home is just totally opposite, and your kids are experiencing both of those things. I think, again, as I said, you've got to be very proactive in teaching and training your children. In some sense, this is like what every parent does. We send our kids into the world at some point.

It's called junior high, you know. We send them into their phone. That's sending them into the world, right? When you hand them that device. So, we better all be training our kids to take a Godly worldview with them wherever it is that they go.

The neighbor's house, their phone, or school. The same thing has to apply in a blended family when there's another home and children are going for four days a week into the other household, and they're getting those bipolar values over there. You just hope that they are taking Christ with them. But what you cannot do is you cannot become somebody who denigrates the other parent. You cannot speak hostile or negatively about them, because in that situation, now you've become the violator of your child's trust.

You're the one who's not now being Godly, and that's never, ever helpful. So, is this clean? Is there guarantees that your children are not going to go over there and watch the TV shows that the other home lets them watch?

No. There's no guarantee in any of this. We just have to continually stay in touch with our kids.

Talk, train, teach. When they come back, spend more time flushing that out, living it out in our home, hoping that those roots will take root and they'll carry it with them when they go into life. That's so good. As we talked to Laurel, even the title of her books, Don't Let Their Crazy Make You Crazy or Make Your Kids Crazy. As you've talked to parents or the spouse that's living in that atmosphere, I know that they can feel like, am I? They're asking themselves, am I crazy?

Yeah, right. What would you say? I loved what she said. She said, you know, you're not crazy, you're traumatized.

If you've been living or in a relationship with somebody with narcissistic personality disorder, you're going to walk away with some bruises on your hearts. You're going to walk away feeling beat up and hurt. And when you begin to really step back and look at that, there were moments where you felt like, I must be going crazy. I'm the one who's messed up. And then you step back and you realize, no, there was this manipulative environment going on, the way they interacted with me and the way they interact currently with me makes me feel small or insignificant.

And it's always their way. And so, yeah, this is not me, but it's certainly left a hurt on me. And I now have to deal with that.

I have to wrestle with it. I have to try to heal, ask God for his help, have conversations about this with somebody who can help me understand what was going on, make sense of who I was, what happened. Should I feel guilty about this? No, I don't think I don't need to feel guilty about that and make sense of it so that you're making stronger, better choices in the future. Yeah, and I feel like even after our program, we met Laurel's husband. And, you know, I had this sense when I met him, just a great guy, Tim, and I thought, man, what a gift God brought to her and her kids who, as we heard, lived through a very traumatic, you know, it was the right word. They were traumatized in that home. And yet she made a hard choice, a really hard choice. It was a really messy journey. And yet you can see God in the middle of it saying, I'm going to protect you and I'm going to bring a good future to your home and to your kids. She also said, which was interesting, is that one of her children felt sorry for their dad, you know, because she had moved on and she has this whole group of church people and small group people and a job.

And he felt so bad because his dad was alone. Can that be typical as well? Yes. As I was listening, I was thinking, yeah, that's pretty common. Somebody in the household is sort of like calling you on the carpet.

No, that's not right. You can't act that way, Dad. And another child's going, yeah, but you're my dad. And so I'm just sort of blindly in love with you. And I move toward you even in the midst of this dysfunction. And that's really hard on a kid because they, you know, can adopt some of those same qualities or attributes. Not that they're necessarily going to repeat every single thing that they've seen or experienced, but it really does make a difference.

Dave, back to what you said, I think it's a great observation. Let me tell you, we here at Family Life say to people all the time, stay in the marriage you're in. Honor the relationship you have as best you can within your power to live up to your vows. Sometimes you can't. When you find yourself in a situation where enough is enough, God will go with you. And often, as we saw in Laurel's story with her now blended family husband, that is a redemptive marriage, redemptive family situation for she and her kids. God brings blessings to us in the midst of hard.

And we can't always prescribe that. We don't always know, you know, what the future holds, but I've seen that so many times. Which makes me think a little bit about our next blended and blessed event that's coming up right around the corner on Saturday, April 29th.

That's an opportunity for people to be refreshed, to be encouraged. We're going to spend time talking about building a healthy blended family marriage, how you can launch your children into the world well and bless them. Dr. John Trent, a great hero of mine, is going to be talking about blessing our kids in blended family situations. And we're going to be talking about living the kingdom way so that you can experience God's kingdom blessings for your family. So, I hope people will look up and learn how you can be involved in that worldwide live stream Saturday, April 29th. And I would just add, you weren't able to sit here in the studio with Laurel, but she sang your praises. And it's because your content has literally, she feels like, saved their blended family. So, I would just say to anybody thinking, should I go?

Yes. This will change your future, change your legacy. Thanks, Ron. Thanks for everything, Ron. Hi, I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Ron Deal on Family Life Today. Such great stuff today with Ron. Personally, I come from a blended family.

I was raised by my mom and stepdad, who I've always called my dad. And I know our family would have benefited so much from the solid biblical teachings that are front and center with blended and blessed. The blended and blessed event is the only one day live event and live stream just for step family couples, single parents, dating couples with kids, and those who care about blended families. It's next week and you still have time to sign up for the April 29th event. You don't even have to go physically. You could just watch from home.

We use DVR technology, so maybe you have to run out to a soccer game, but don't worry. You can just catch up when you get back on all the stuff you missed. Head over to and click on the blended and blessed event. And be sure to join us next week when Dave and Anne Wilson are joined by Rachel Faulkner Brown. She's going to talk about the time in her life when she lost her husband as his heart suddenly stopped on the basketball court. She'll talk about that and also the hope she has in Jesus, despite the grief of loss. That's next week. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-22 05:05:17 / 2023-04-22 05:16:30 / 11

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