During this “Reflections” event at Bakersfield’s historic Crystal Palace, Craig Francis Harrison, MDIV, talks about surrendering to God’s love and overcoming the need to control others or be controlled.
Video by Bob West Video.
I chose this topic, Control Freak or Doormat: Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid? because I have spoken with many people lately who talk about being manipulated, controlled by others and other people telling me their stories about enabling. How do we live a life where we are not controlled, or controlling others, being manipulated or feeling taken advantage of by others. Sounds like a great plan to live by when you’re free of control.
I’d like to read to you the story of Narcissus and Echo, and enabling:
When Zeus came to the mountains, the wood nymphs rushed to embrace the jovial god. They played with him in icy waterfalls and laughed with him in lush green glades.
Zeus’ wife Hera was very jealous, and often she searched the mountainside, trying to catch her husband with the nymphs. But whenever Hera came close to finding Zeus, a charming nymph named Echo stepped across her path. Echo chatted with Hera in a lively fashion and did whatever she could to stall the goddess until Zeus and the other nymphs had escaped.
Eventually, Hera discovered that Echo had been tricking her and flew into a rage. “Your tongue has made a fool of me!” she shouted at Echo. “Henceforth, your voice will be more brief, my dear! You will always have the last word – but never the first!”
From that day on, poor Echo could only repeat the last words of what others said.
One day Echo spied a golden-haired youth hunting deer in the woods. The boy’s name was Narcissus, and he was the most beautiful young man in the forest. All who looked upon Narcissus fell in love with him immediately. But he would have nothing to do with anyone, for he was very conceited.
When Echo first laid eyes upon Narcissus, her heart burned like the flame of a torch. She secretly followed him through the woods, loving him more with each step. She got closer and closer until finally Narcissus heard the leaves rustling. He whirled around and cried out, “Who’s here?”
From behind a tree, Echo repeated his last word, “Here!”
Narcissus looked about in wonder, “Who are you? Come to me!” he said.
Narcissus searched the woods but could not find the nymph. “Stop hiding! Let us meet!” he shouted.
“Let us meet!” Echo cried. Then she stepped from behind the tree and rushed to embrace Narcissus.
But the youth panicked when the nymph flung her arms around his neck. He pushed her away and shouted, “Leave me alone! I’d rather die than let you love me!”
“Love me!” was all poor Echo could say as she watched Narcissus run from her through the woods. “Love me! Love me! Love me!”
Humiliated and filled with sorrow, Echo wandered the mountains until she found a lonely cave to live in.
Meanwhile, Narcissus hunted in the woods, tending only to himself, until one day he discovered a hidden pool of water. The pool had a silvery-smooth surface. No shepherds ever disturbed its waters – no goats or cattle, no birds or fallen leaves. Only the sun danced upon the still pond.
Tired from hunting and eager to quench his thirst, Narcissus lay on his stomach and leaned over the water. But when he looked at the glassy surface, he saw someone staring back at him.
Narcissus was spellbound. Gazing up at him from the pool were eyes like twin stars, framed by hair as golden as Apollo’s and cheeks as smooth as ivory. But when he leaned down and tried to kiss the perfect lips, he kissed only spring water. When he reached out and tried to embrace this vision of beauty, he found no one was there.
“What love could be more cruel than this?” he cried. “When my lips kiss the beloved, they touch only water! When I reach for my beloved, I hold only water!”
Narcissus began to weep. When he wiped away his tears, the person in the water also wiped away tears. “Oh no,” sobbed Narcissus. “I see the truth now; it is myself I weep for! I yearn for my own reflection!”
As Narcissus cried harder, the tears broke the glassy surface of the pool and caused his reflection to disappear. “Come back! Where did you go?” the youth cried. “I love you so much! At least stay and let me look upon you!”
Day after day, Narcissus stared at the water, in love with his own reflection. He began to waste away from grief, until one sad morning, he felt himself dying. “Good-bye, my love!” he shouted to his reflection.
“Good-bye, my love!” Echo cried to Narcissus from her cave deep in the woods.
Then Narcissus took his last breath.
After he died, the water nymphs and wood nymphs searched for his body. But all they found was a magnificently beautiful flower beside the hidden pool where the youth had once yearned for his own reflection. The flower had white petals and a yellow center, and from that time on, it was called Narcissus.
And alas, poor Echo, desolate after Narcissus’s death, did not eat or sleep. As she laid in her cave, all her beauty faded away, and she became very thin until her voice was all that was left.
Thereafter, the lonely voice of Echo was heard in the mountains, repeating the last words anyone said.
I love this.
People use the word Narcissist today like they use bipolar, both are real things but not easy to diagnose. Joan Knowlden and I talk a lot about this; she has worked in this area for a long time. Just because someone is moody or up and down, has a strong ego, likes themselves, does not make them bipolar or a narcissist. My thought is we are all a little of both.
In the Narcissist Playbook, Dana Morningstar defines Narcissism as someone who focuses so much on oneself, they do so at the expense and destruction of others. I made my own definition. When everyone else looks out a window and sees an entire world out there, a Narcissist looks through a mirror and everything in life is about them. There is healthy Narcissism, we all need a little to accomplish goals and move forward, but not at the expense of others.
Let’s call her Mary, she tells me her husband has been having an affair, she has read text messages, etc. But when confronting him, he makes her feel like she is crazy and needs therapy. All along he is in a relationship with someone else. Mary begins to doubt herself, begins to get sick physically wondering what is wrong with her. I believe there is something very true about intuition. This is called “gaslighting” from a great Alfred Hitchcock moving called “Gaslight”.
Another case, we will call him Johnny. He is in high school, and his behavior is changing, wrong crowd, lack of respect. The parents suspect drugs, they search his room and find paraphernalia and confront Johnny. He tells them it belongs to a friend, and he was holding them for him, and he would never do drugs. They want a drug test and Johnny is upset that they do not trust him. They feel bad when he feels bad, owning his feelings. The problem does not go away, Johnny keeps manipulating his parents. What his parents are doing is called enabling. Allowing him to do something and not setting limits. I know a woman who did not want to upset her son by “hounding” him about marijuana, so she quit requiring a drug test. Her 23-year-old son died of Fentanyl laced marijuana…….his parents were enabling him. They did not want to upset him, so they enable. It is easy to do.
Gaslighting is a tool of the narcissist and enabling is the tool of a codependent. These are the two dance partners of CRAZY. Sometimes we need to back away and assess what is happening to us.
Shannon Alder said, “The only person that deserves a special place in your life is someone that never made you feel like you were an option in theirs.”
Jill Blakeway said, “When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will seem unfair but rise above it trust that others will eventually see the truth, just as you did.”
There are so many examples: People borrow money and do not pay it back. Friends don’t include you in a party when you always invite them. Friends want you to help them, but they do nothing to help themselves. It seems everywhere we go we are being manipulated. It comes from politics, the news, religions, workplaces and families. Sometimes I think it would be great to be a hermit. Maybe that is why I go to Assisi so often. There is also the reality that we can be the one manipulating.
I discovered some years ago, raising children, I could be manipulating. I loved guilt trips. Being raised in guilt I think I became a master. Religious people and parents are real agents of guilt. My children could give personal testimonies of my guilt trips, but I would say today I have gotten a lot better. Much to their dismay. Whether it was me trying to run their lives or fix their problems, I woke up one day and decided they had their journeys and I had mine, and I was cured – mostly. I used to think I was helping them, because of course, I know best. But in reality, by trying to control their lives, I was neglecting my own.
I now love my children with detachment, not abandonment, and I love watching them find their own way, and you know that they can do a better job in THEIR life than I can (EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE WRONG MOST OF THE TIME!).
We are closer than ever before. It is not easy to wait for them to ask me what I think. The problem is they already know so they really don’t ask anymore.
I have found that being rejected for feeling hurt because they don’t “NEED” me, can sometimes be God telling me to “let go and let God. Put it in the God Box”. This is God’s way of telling me I am going in the wrong direction. This does not mean we are giving up on someone or don’t love them, it means we are allowing them to experience what they need to grow. Louisa Alcott said, “I am not afraid of the storms for I am learning how to sail my own ship”. Focus on what you need to do to not be controlled and to not enable.
SCRIPTURE Phil 4:6. “Be not anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.”
Questions to ask yourself:
Do you worry about your child, marriage, finances? Why? Norman Vincent Peale, a philanthropist, once said, “Worry is accepting the responsibility God never intended you to have.” He also said, “90% of what we worry about never happens, and the other 10% wasn’t prevented by us worrying.”
Oftentimes when we are so entwined with the lives of our children, spouses, friends, or anyone else for that matter, we are not growing and doing our own self-discovery. We are not
doing the hard work of our own lives. We don’t get applause or “points” for focusing there. Looking into self and your relationship with God can be exciting, freeing and fun.
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 69:32-33. “Let all who seek God ‘s help be encouraged. For the Lord hears the cries of the needy.”
We say to ourselves that we are surrendering control. This reminds me of the little girl who approached God with a doll that was very broken. She held it out to him saying, “You are all powerful, can you fix my doll?” God looked down at the little girl and said, “Yes, if you surrender all.” The little girl sheepishly brought her hand from behind her back and give the Lord the missing arm.
We need to surrender completely. How many times do we give it to God and grab it right back because we do not think God is big enough.
I see this in a lot of single parents giving too much to their children making up for the absence of the other parent. Then you end up with an entitled teenager who says, “Get out of my room/car/life!” Then do you ask yourself where did I go wrong? Or, I did not raise by child to be like this. Duh.
Another example is when parents have a close relationship with their child and then the child meets someone, and they get married. The new spouse puts a deep wedge in the parent’s relationship and keeps the child away. I see this more and more, even keeping grandchildren away, or having a million rules for the grandparents. All of this falls into the world of manipulation, control, and exclusion. My hope is that we find the antidote to this exclusionary thinking. The answer is Inclusion. Finding the strengths in our relationships, rather than being controlled or controlling them. Control is an illusion anyway.
We are meant to live in harmony, peace and joy, experiencing the Love of God, even in adversity. What can we do?
The first step is ASSESSMENT.
You may need help in this. To seek out a counselor, spiritual director, life coach, someone who is not personally involved, and can ASSESS the situation. What are the known facts, behaviors, and feelings. Be honest…it is hard to share that we can’t sleep anymore, or all of the joy of life is gone because our child is avoiding us, or we find we are avoiding them. This will be the foundation for a plan of healing and recovery from disharmony. The Assessment will help you set up a plan that is both healthy and healing.
MAKE A PLAN
You might say I just need to have a one-on-one with my child and let them know how much they have hurt me. YOU ARE PLAYING THEIR GAME! How many times have you shared you were hurt before; it got nowhere. You can pray the other person drops off the face of the earth…..I like that one! You can try to get others to intervene….BIG mistake and manipulative. Natalie Frank calls these the “Flying Monkeys” that the narcissist uses to torment the unwilling. OR you can work on you and your feelings!
WHY HAVE YOU GIVEN THIS PERSON SO MUCH POWER OVER YOU? What is missing in your own life that you are so empty? I bet they sleep just fine at night.
Oftentimes I think God allows struggles and suffering to happen in our life to draw our attention away from control and a deeper surrender to HIM. I have never been a fan of suffering, but I now believe it is not only a part of this life, but essential for growth. Don’t run from suffering. St. Faustina (Divine Mercy) wrote in her diary, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior, in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering the purer the love.” The things I held onto so tight, even though they were suffocating me, Jesus needed me to break away so I could allow HIM to breath new life in me! Whether it was children, work, friends, I lost many hours of sleep and joy trying to make others happy and really, I was the only one unhappy; they seemed just fine…those ungrateful bastards.
When you slow down enough to think about it, it is freeing when you are only responsible for your own life. Don’t get me wrong, when you have small children you have to raise them with love and discipline, but really when they are about 16, better start your own self care. You can love them, but they have to find themselves and we cannot get in the way or we will be only one that gets run over. It’s like the title of one of the best books about teens, “Get Out of My Life But First Could You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall”, by Anthony Wolf. Remember, the teen years are the most narcissistic years of our lives. But they should end when we are 25 and our brain is fully mature.
I had a person share with me how painful it was that her 16-year-old daughter told her, “I hate you.” Being a single mother, she has sacrificed everything for the daughter. She was crushed! I told her if I got a dollar for every time my children told me that, I would be rich. She was not amused. I said to her, “It sounds like you don’t like your daughter right now?” she said, “NO, in fact I hate her!” Mom had moved her focus to herself. I said then you have a lot in common. I told her she should work on her prayer life because this stage usually lasts a while. Stay close to our Lord, He will carry you through it….good news, three years later they get along wonderfully with strong boundaries and love.
EPHESIANS 2:19-22. “Whenever you feel unloved, unimportant or insecure, remember to whom you belong.”
It may seem simple, but it is true when any relationship you have is strained, you need to step back and ASSESS. MAKE A PLAN. THEN TAKE IT TO OUR LORD. HE WILL GUIDE YOUR ACTIONS.
For three years, without missing, I have offered the Surrender Novena. It is nine days and I keep repeating it because I find new people and situations I need to surrender to God. I will post it on my website, Craig’s Inspirations and Reflections.
Remember at any given moment you have the power to say this is NOT how my story is going to end!
CO-DEPENDENT RECOVERY TOOLS
- Make a God Box. You can use a jewelry box or a refrigerator box, pick what fits for you. I keep one at work and one at home in my closet. Whenever I am obsessing over something about someone else, I write their name on a piece of paper and put it in the box, saying, “I release you with love and give you to God.” Joan Knowlden, told me when she was going through a divorce, she put his name in the box 32 times one day, taking it back from God, thinking she could do better.
- Taking from AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), the fourth step. “Make a fearless and moral inventory of ourselves.” Of all the wrongs I have done to myself and others. Then make amends for these. (I hate this part, but it keeps me from doing it again).
- Keep track of your “codep seizures” and tell yourself, this happens when I give unsolicited advice. Because I know best or say yes without thinking it through.
- Offer the phrase, “I am sure you will figure it out” instead of giving advice.
- Breathe and count to 8 before you engage in righteous, critical, controlling, judgmental advice. And then swallow it, don’t say it.
- Pray….light candles. When I do it allows me to leave the problem there. They only last a few days so it can be expensive…ha ha!
- Surrender Novena.
- Repeat the Golden Rule: “Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves unless it is a gift.”
NARCISSISTIC RECOVERY TOOLS
- There are none. They have all the answers.
We really do not need to live in constant fear and worry, we were not created for this. We only need the faith of a mustard seed. When we search for peace we will find it. We don’t have to go around figuring out everyone else’s life; there is so much more inside of us to explore and share. I read somewhere, “I can’t control your behavior, nor do I want that burden, but I will not apologize for refusing to be disrespected, lied to or mistreated. I have standards, step up or step out.”
Jesus reminds us that we need to grow too. We need to allow others to be themselves and the greatest gift we can share is being authentic, faithful and happy. If we are working on ourselves we have so much more to offer. Read, listen to books, podcasts…..PRAY, share your journey with a trusted friend. God is always there. Look inside and do not be afraid to grow. It can be frightening at times, but it is also exciting to discover new and greater truths. When we are growing and living we can let go of having to find ourselves through controlling or being controlled by others. Surrendering to the fact we are loved by our Heavenly Father who wants a deep and personal relationship with us. He sent Jesus so he doesn’t need us to do the heavy lifting. He can handle the troubled kid, addict, narcissist, ungrateful, sometimes even mean, person in our life. Remember He is working in their life too and maybe we just need to get out of HIS way so He can heal them faster.
Joan shared with me a poem that I have read many times since. It is about personal growth and seeking the way!
(Sometimes if we are not looking out for ourselves we fall. We can learn.)
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
By Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I still don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
It isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there. I still fall in.
It’s habit. It’s my fault. I know where I am.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down a different street.
THE NARCISSIST PLAYBOOK, by Dana Morningstar.
CODEPENDENCY FOR DUMMIES, by Darlene Lancer.
THE GIFT OF IMPERFECTION, by Brene Brown.
FLYING MONKEYS, by Natalie Frank.
GET OUT OF MY LIFE, BUT FIRST COULD YOU TAKE ME AND CHERYL TO THE MALL, by Anthony Wolf.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS, by Portia Nelson.