Podcast: How to Deal with a Narcissistic Leader

What are the tell-tale signs that you’re working with a narcissistic leader? Have you ever been hurt by one? Is it possible you could be one?

In this episode of the Church InTension podcast, The King’s University President, Dr. Jon Chasteen, and Dr. Cassie Reid (director of The King’s University’s Master of Marriage and Family Therapy degree) discuss this fascinating topic with prolific author and narcissism expert Dr. Chuck DeGroat.

Dr. Jon Chasteen: Well, thanks so much for joining us today. The Church InTension listeners, we love you, we thank you for following the podcast. If you haven’t already done so, please take a minute, and give us a review, give us a like, and we would love to connect with you online. Today, I have a guest with me but I have two guests with me, the first one is really not a guest. I love when I can, to bring on faculty or people from the team from here at The King’s University. And today we have one of our faculty members, Dr. Cassie Reid, she has been with us before as a guest on the show. Today she’s going to help me interview our guest, but Dr. Reid is the director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program here at The King’s University, and she is just an amazing woman. We are so lucky to have her on our team. Cassie, we’re really excited you’re with us today.

Dr. Cassie Reid: Oh, I’m glad to be here.

Jon: Awesome. So today’s guest is somebody that I’m really looking forward to having a conversation with. The topic is one that I am obsessed with. And I can not wait to unpack some of this with him. Dr. Chuck DeGroat is a Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality at Western Theological Seminary, in Holland, Michigan. And he’s an author, speaker, consultant, therapist. Chuck is married to Sara, and has two teenage daughters. He’s an author of five books including his most recent book that come out this year, the one we’re going to be talking about today called When Narcissism Comes to Church. Chuck, we’re really, really honored that you’re joining us today.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat: Well, thanks for having me.

Jon: Well, I don’t want to waste any time, Chuck. I want to jump right into this conversation, I really want to start with just the basics. Because I’m assuming people out there have heard the word narcissist or narcissism but they may not be able to really articulate what that means. Can we just start by you telling us, what is narcissism?

Chuck: Sure. When we talk about narcissism, clinicians often, therapists often, go to a big, thick book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of personality disorders. And that book gives a definition, that is a lot longer than the one I’ll give you, but I’ll give you a couple of highlights. One aspect of narcissism that we see is grandiosity, a grandiose personality. Another one that we see is a sense of entitlement. Another aspect of attribute that we see is low empathy.

Chuck: In other words, low capacity to understand or feel or experience what’s going on in another person’s experience or emotion. And then along with that, we often get what they call impairments in relationships, vocation, work. In other words, your relationships, your life at work might just be chaotic. There may be some problems. So, when we add those things up, and now I’m talking very practically, and ripping off of the DSM, that’s what we get are those kinds of basic attributes.

Jon: We’re going to get to the ministry part of it specifically in a minute, but do you see it to where… Is that something that happens over time? Let’s talk about a pastor. Could they start out as a healthy, mental health, emotional health, everything’s really great. And then does it progress into this or is it something that’s a part of you from your whole personality for your whole life?

Chuck: Yeah. Well, I like to say that it’s not a binary. It’s not either you have it, or you don’t, it’s more of a spectrum. And even with the testing, and assessment work that I do, I use a particular test that tests people along a spectrum. And so, that’s important to say that there are attributes of narcissism that I think I have. You don’t write books and get up and speak, if you don’t have a little bit of narcissism in you, but there’s a pathological side to this that we can get it now. People were talking about personality disorders. It’s a little bit mysterious. It’s a nature and nurture thing, but what we do know, and what I know from my own work, is that if, and when I do get down to some core experiences of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, more than likely, I will find that early stages of their life, six, seven, eight years old, there was some experience of being bullied or made to feel small or marginalized or something like that.

Chuck: And not consciously, the great sub and unconsciously, they develop coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms, almost like a wall or an armor that they put up. Like, “I will not let the world get me.” And then by the time you’re 35, 40, 45 years old, this is solidified. This is rock solid armor that defends you against anyone who dares maybe challenge you in a way or push back in a conversation. And so-

Jon: Yeah and if you get into a position of authority of any kind, you’re really set up to really operate in that condition.

Cassie: Yeah. I think one of the things that I love, I mean, just about that, that you’re bringing to the surface, that a lot of people don’t talk about. When it comes to narcissism, but specifically, when you think about pastors in the spectrum, it’s just the insecurity that really lies at the very root of why they built that defense mechanism. I’d love for you to speak to that if you have anything you’d like to share on that side.

Chuck: Yeah. That’s a really important word, insecurity. Right? There are other words that we can put around it, even shame, some fundamental sense of deficiency. And that’s the underneath experience of someone who’s narcissist. Like a fear of vulnerability, a fear of being exposed. And so, even though the narcissistic pastor, for instance, comes off strong, powerful, secure, yeah Cassie as you’re saying, deeply insecure, fearful, anxious. So, that’s where in this conversation, I think, I can get in trouble sometimes because I want to point out the humanity, even in the narcissist. That underneath the bullying is someone who is probably bullied, probably someone who’s really hurt, and deeply shamed.

Jon: Yeah, that’s really good. There’s a couple of times in your book, you mentioned something that I… I listened to the book. I like audio books, and I rewound it probably two or three times to relisten to it. A few times in your book, you mentioned that narcissists have, “Longing to be free from longing.” And can you unpack that a little bit? Tell our listeners what that means, that, “Longing to be free from longing.”

Chuck: Yeah. That actually goes back with early work on narcissism that I read many years ago. And I didn’t quite know what that meant for a long time. It was one of those quotes that I sat with, and I think probably a combination of maybe reading some St. Augustine, and C.S. Lewis, theologians have longings, talk about, “This God ingrained through the restlessness. Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, oh God.” There’s longing for God that somehow some way the narcissist cuts himself off from that longing. He doesn’t want to wait expectedly. He doesn’t want to open his hands. He wants to control. He wants to have it now. He wants to defy his own limitations. And if you long, there’s a recognition that there are limitations in life, that we’ve got to wait, that we can’t have it in our own timing sometimes, that I’m not in control. And the narcissist tries to defy that, I am in control. I am unlimited.

Jon: That’s so good. So, I have to ask, what inspired you to write this book Chuck? Of all the topics, of all the things. Was it was an experience? Did you witness something? Was it just witnessing something from a far? What sparked it?

Chuck: Yeah. Well, I often say this, “This is the least fun book to write.”-

Jon: Yeah, no kidding.

Chuck: Before this I wrote a book called Wholeheartedness. It was a really fun, and beautiful book to write. This one was hard. The short story is that, it was inspired by some pastors who challenged me to write it, who wanted a resource. The longer story, and I’ll keep this short too, just for me it goes back to seminary, and in the mid 1990s, and what I would say is being caught in my own arrogance and dogmatism by my own counseling professor who called me out, and invited me to a new way of living, to humility.

Chuck: And I went on a journey, and that journey led me into pastoral ministry and therapy. And it was in those first years of ministry that I began to see men in particular, in leadership positions, positions of power, elders, ministers, who were showing up narcissistically. So, I had a special eye for it, I think, and part because I think I was wrestling with my own way of showing up in the world.

Jon: Wow. Cassie, don’t hesitate to interrupt me. I’ve got like 4 million questions because I just love this topic. So, never hesitate to jump in.

Cassie: I did have a question in that regard just because one of my passions, and interests is helping those in pastoral ministry seek out counseling, and find a place to be healthy, and to bleed because a lot of those people don’t have a spot where they feel safe to let it all out. So, I think my question for you is how can we turn that ship in a sense in the world where it’s been seen a lot of times like we have all the answers, we don’t need help, we’re the source of help. But in reality, you and I both know and a lot of other people too, as you see them, they’re hurting, they’re insecure, they’re wounding people. And so, I would love to hear your opinion or thoughts on how we can help that be better.

Chuck: Yeah. That’s such a good question. And it feels like there’s a one hand. I mean, I’m trying to think about this now as an ex-pastor in seminary education, what can we do in training? But the reality is instead, a lot of pastors nowadays are bypassing training for a brand, and going straight into ministry. And a part of what I’ve tried to do over the years is to cultivate a conversation that invites pastors to see that they have needs too. There’s a lot of people that get into pastoring, are achievers they’re helpers. But they’re often disconnected from their own pain, their own needs, their own story. And so, a large part of what I’ve tried to do over the years is to say, “Hey, you must be exhausted, anxious or overwhelmed, or you’re involved in so many things and helping so many people.”

Chuck: And I think the conversation is changing. I wonder what you think about this too, Cassie. You work in this area. Are you seeing the conversation change? Because I think I’m beginning to see, and now with COVID too, pastors come out of the woodwork and say, “I don’t have it all together. I’m hurting.”

Cassie: Yeah I’ve definitely seen the shift. And I think it’s more now putting, I guess, making it easier or making it more commonplace for them. And I’m hearing more and more at a pastor friend say to me that his goal is now not to have the biggest church, but to have the highest emotional quotient of any pastor in America. And I was like, “I could do a cartwheel. That’s amazing.” Just that to hear a pastor say that. And it’s like to have more pastors say that, “If I could be emotionally healthy.” Because that will trickle down, if they are healthy. And so, I think is making it accessible, making it something that’s a bit easier for them because I think, sometimes the thought of just finding someone can be daunting. Where do I even go to talk about this or that’s safe? But-

Jon: It’s really good. I feel like I’m on a couch talking to two therapists, and I just need to… You guys aren’t going to charge me for this, right? I can-

Chuck: How do you feel about that, Jon?

Jon: Tell us how you feel about that, Jon. I think I’m in an interesting position as a leader where I’m serving as a… I’m still a lead pastor at what is considered a megachurch. And then I’m also the President of The King’s University and the Seminary. And so, I have a very similar passion to what you spoke about Chuck, about we’re training the next generation of pastors, and leaders at these seminaries. And then as a pastor, I’m obviously friends with a lot of other pastors. And I know the pain, and the hurt, and the issues that the pastors face.

Jon: And when I started reading this book, I did it more to say, “Yeah, I know a couple of narcissists, I need to learn about them.” And the more I read your book, the more I realized there’s a narcissist in all of us. And I’d begin to take your book more, less about me listening to it to point at other people, and I began to find elements of the finger pointing back at me. And so, I really began to see some early stages potentially, of things that could be in me that I don’t want to be there. And so, I think what I see in it, and I’d love you to speak to this, is to come to the spiritual side of this. And it really is an amazing weapon that the enemy uses because it’s deceptive.

Jon: And that’s what makes it such a good weapon. It’s because we know the enemy is the deceiver, and when it comes to deception, you don’t know what you don’t know. And so, I think we could all look, and find narcissistic tendencies in all of us. And so, the question becomes, what are the signs that I should look for in myself? We are pretty good at diagnosing other people, whether we’re right or not, remains to be seen, but we’re terrible at diagnosing ourselves. And what are some of those warning signs, Chuck? How do I see things in me that are the beginnings of narcissistic stages or tendencies?

Chuck: Wow. That’s a good question. And-

Jon: I’m on the couch, but don’t charge me.

Chuck: Well, yeah. Let’s talk about you, Jon. I think, I get it that by going back to the original story of a serpent, of a tempter, slithering up to Adam and Eve with the question, “Surely God didn’t tell you that you can’t eat from that tree?” Raising questions for them about God’s goodness, raising questions to them about the reality that God will satisfy them, come through for them, about God’s love for them. And I think that every narcissistic journey, you might say, begins with that question. “Is there something wrong with me? Is there something missing?” That I’ve got to find outside of Eden, you might say, outside of God’s grace, and God’s goodness.

Chuck: And we’re reaching, I think we’re continually and perpetually. I mean, I’m continually and perpetually reaching for that thing. At a fundamental level, I’ve got questions about whether or not God’s going to show up for me, and whether or not I’m enough, you might say, and in God’s goodness and God’s grace. And so, I just think that I see that whenever I’m working with folks who have questions, and this gets back, what I think what Cassie was hinting at with insecurity, chain insecurity, where there’s this sense of there’s something missing in me. And so, but I find it in the approval of others. I find it when I’m firmly on stage, and I get the applause. That’s where the narcissist is. And to go back to the earlier question, I think that’s where the narcissist is, “Well, oh, I like that applause. So I’m going to keep going after that drug. That dopamine high.” Yeah.

Cassie: That’s exactly what I was going to say. Oh, sorry-

Jon: No, go ahead. I was just going to say that’s exactly what happens. You get off the stage and you get those dopamine hits. “Oh, pastor. That was such an amazing sermon. That was just the best sermon. It changed my life.” And those little seeds that are planted over time become something. Go ahead, Cassie.

Cassie: That’s exactly, we’re all saying the same thing. I think it’s almost like in my mind, a Christian drug. We would say to someone like that, if they found that dopamine hit through drugs or even getting drunk or other ways we would be like, “Oh my gosh, but it’s one of these things that, oh my gosh, I changed someone’s life. I preached a good message, and look at my team, they’re amazing. My church is growing. This is so awesome.” Because on paper, and in visible ways, it looks good.

Cassie: But just like someone who’s addicted to exercise, which is possible, it’s not healthy. Because it’s used as a crutch to keep you from the very thing that the Holy Spirit wants to take you to, which is typically finding the root of why you’re feeling shame or feeling insecurity. But it’s just such a palatable, almost like a slow process too. It’s like one time they say that coming off the stage and you like it, and then it increases, increases, and you almost need more and more and more as time moves forward.

Chuck: Yeah. I love that. It’s similar. You’ll hear the same thing from someone addicted to drugs, if you will. Some are addicted to the applause or the stage like, “I don’t know how I got here.” Almost a sense of like, “This isn’t even me. How did I even get to this point?” And so, it tugs you along, and you don’t even realize it’s happening. And this is where again, I have empathy at times when I sit with, I’ve sat with mostly men who find themselves now confronted with a debris field of damage that they’ve caused. And the sense of like, “I can’t believe I’ve done this. I thought I was living for Jesus. I thought I was serving for good motives. And I didn’t realize that I was missing people, hurting people, gaslighting people, abusing people.” Yeah.

Jon: Yeah. And you get to the point of stature, so to speak, that at least from what I’ve witnessed, and you can speak to this that, before you know it, the leader gets to a point where he’s surrounded by yes people, and nobody can challenge him anymore because the last time someone did, they got their legs cut out from under them or whatever the case may be. So, now this leader is surrounded by people who won’t challenge him or her ever. And so, that just compounds it even more. And then it becomes a really toxic environment of people that can’t talk to their leader. Is there anything to that? Is that a part of this whole element?

Chuck: Yeah, I think that’s a significant part of it. And I would go so far as to say he’s terrified of people disagreeing with him, challenging him. He may not use that language, but when we get right down to it, right down to the core stuff, it’s like, “I’m so scared you’ll turn on me. I’m so scared that this thing that I built will fall apart. I can’t take it, I can’t take you piercing my armor because I remember way, way back to what that felt like. And I felt so vulnerable then. I never, ever want to go there again.” There’s a significant difference between leaders who lead from a place of humility who are willing to hear from others, and who are unafraid to get the pushback every now and then. It doesn’t harm them, It doesn’t hurt them. In fact, they say, “Tell me more.” Versus the narcissistic leader who says, “Go away.”

Jon: Wow. So, if we’re trying to identify in ourselves narcissistic tendencies, and maybe that’s impossible. If that’s impossible, you just tell me that I’m crazy, and we can’t see those things in ourselves, but I’m just trying to look at it from a Christ follower’s perspective, where we’re called to examine ourselves before the Lord. Are there certain triggers? Are there things that maybe it is that, maybe it’s, “I feel this void, and I got to go back to get my dopamine hit.” And we’re looking for those triggers. Are there triggers that we could be looking for?

Chuck: Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think it… One of the things I tried to do in writing the book was, I tried to shine a light on the different manifestations of narcissism.

Jon: Yes. Talk about that for a minute please. It’s so good.

Chuck: Yeah. Well, we have a caricature of the narcissistic leader. He’s big, he’s brash, he’s bullying, sometimes the charlatan, think of a typical politician type. What I wanted to do is I wanted to give people different faces, different descriptions to say, “Hey, this comes in all different kinds of packages.” It can come in the introverted, associate staff member who is whiny and self-sabotaging, and it’s always about, it seems like the focus always comes back around something God wants for me, or you’re doing something to me. And so, there are these different faces of narcissism that we talk about, but I think, it’s not the people to pay attention to how this plays out in their lives.

Chuck: And one of the things I invite people to do is in relationship with others, honest relationships to ask, “How do you experience me?” Not just the good stuff, not just, “Wow, you’re such a great leader, John.” But with the shadow side, “Sometimes you can be pushy. There are times when I want to bring up my opinion, and you’re condescending. Sometimes a bit passive aggressive. You shut me down.”

Chuck: One of the questions I’ve asked as a leader for the last 15 years where I’ve invited, for anyone who’s worked for me, underneath me in pastoral ministry, whatever it is, is, “How do you experience me?” And a student came to me before COVID, last fall, and said, “Chuck, you’re talking about relationship and presence. And yet when you are around the seminary, it just seems like you make a beeline for your office. You’re coping, I’m back, and I can’t stop you. And you don’t seem very present. Is it okay for me to say this to you?” And I was like, “Yes, it is. Tell me more about how you experienced that.”

Jon: Yeah. Just being open to feedback, and giving those 360-degree reviews, and being willing for people to… And give people permission, you’re not going to get in trouble. Tell me I’m horrible. Tell me something I do wrong. That’s so good. What about, what would you say-

Chuck: Give me specifics.

Jon: Yeah. What would you say to, I think we probably have a lot of listeners who are having an epiphany in diagnosing some situations, not that any of our listeners have the authority to diagnose anyone. But they’re beginning to be able to put a name with something that they’ve been experiencing. And so, we’ve been talking for a few minutes about how do we identify narcissism in ourselves, but I want to shift, and talk about the person who’s working for a pastor or working for a leader or maybe they’re married to someone who has this deficiency. And what would you say is the best way to approach a narcissist?

Chuck: Yeah. So, that’s a really good question. And Cassie, you jump in too here, but I’ll take a stab at it first, and say that, I would say, approach them after doing some work on your own. In other words, I think that there are folks who maybe become a bit aware of what’s going on or they’re offended by something someone does. And they try to take a stab at sitting down with them, meeting with them one-on-one, and giving them some feedback. And now suddenly they feel themselves on the outs or maybe they’re dismissed or fired, and ask themselves, “What happened?”

Chuck: Now, for those who sit down with a therapist, for instance, and begin to process their experience, I find that that invites a much slower process of asking questions like, “How is this impacting me? How am I seeing this as a pattern over time? What’s the role I play in it? How have I reinforced it? What was I looking for? What are the specific ways that he has maybe abused or gaslit?” And then coming up with a plan, and that plan might in a ministry context may mean, inviting others into the conversation. It may mean soliciting a conversation with another leader, a couple of leaders who could provide some accountability, whatever that might be. You’re not doing it alone. It’s not done reactively, but it’s done with some good processing, and reflection, and discernment.

Jon: That’s good. Cassie, would you add anything to it?

Cassie: Well, I was just going to say, I think going back to what you were saying Chuck, about them having a wound of their own, and then building this as a defense strategy. You have to think, if you go in guns ablaze, then first defense or a couple defenses say, “Hey, listen, you’re doing this.” You imagine their response. If that’s the whole defense that they’ve built this around to begin with, is someone bullied them, someone belittled them, someone did something to them. So, you’re going to come and you’re going to trigger the very thing that caused them to be this way in the first place. And they’re going to want to eliminate you in whatever form that is. Just because it’s safety, it’s human nature.

Jon: That’s really good.

Chuck: Yeah. That’s so good. Yeah. Thank you for that, Cassie because I think that shines an even broader light on that. And again, take the conversation back to, they’re working out of a defense mechanism that’s really old in them, and this probably has very little to do with you, and just them putting up the shield, and defending themselves.

Jon: Yeah. Don’t personalize it, when they do those things to you. So, you were very careful in naming your book, When Narcissism Comes to Church. It wasn’t just a book on narcissism. It was a narcissism coming to the local church. And I know as a therapist you’ve been exposed to narcissism on all fronts. Now I would assume, and I want you to speak to this, I would assume, and again I’m assuming, is narcissism more prevalent in the church because it brings a spiritual component into it where there can be not just verbal abuse, not just leadership abuse, but there can be spiritual abuse. Is this a reason why you focused on the church?

Chuck: It is. Yeah. And when it comes to it being more prevalent in the church, that’s still an open question. I think a number of us would say yes. I think we’re still looking for really good quantitative data on that. Would I say narcissists are attracted to ministry? Yes. From my own assessment work over the years, by and large, the majority of candidates that I’ve assessed, pastors, church planners, leaders of all kinds have been in the cluster B category of personality disorders, which is narcissism, histrionic personality, borderline, antisocial, narcissistic characteristics. And as a colleague of mine says, I mean, in some ways, when you have 90% of the public, don’t like to speak in public, right? But you’ve got the few people who not only want to speak in public, but they want to speak on behalf of God, the word of God.

Chuck: That’s presumptuous, they want to be ordained with Masters of Divinity, reverend, and so, there’s this sense of not only do they have a platform, but now they have a spiritual platform which is different than politics or Hollywood. You’re given credibility, and that’s scary but you’re given credibility. So, a lot of people will say to me, “Well, how can I question him? I mean, he’s been so successful, and he’s written a book, and-“

Jon: “And God said.” Right? Everything’s led with God said.

Cassie: “And God said.” Yeah.

Jon: How do you argue with that?

Chuck: Yeah. That’s right. So, “It must be me.” And over and over again, people say, “It must be me. I must’ve done something wrong.”

Jon: Wow. So-

Cassie: We’re taught to abide by the hierarchy that’s established. I think in us, we want to honor authority. I think we’re built that way. But then when authority becomes abusive, is when it becomes convoluted because you’re saying, “I want to honor them, but wow. That feels not okay to me.”

Chuck: Yeah. It doesn’t feel like an authority that is inviting, a leader that’s inviting but demanding, right? And people can feel it. I find that those two experiences, it takes a little while, but as they get in touch with their palpable experience of what happens in their body, we call this trauma, the anxiety that they feel when they come into the orbit of this leader, the symptoms that they begin to experience, “I’m not sleeping well, I’m drinking too much. And what is this all about?” They’ll come to you. I’ll find that people might come to me and they’ll just say, “I want to talk about depression.” And we will practice all the way back to them being in an abusive relationship or marriage, you’re in the church. And so, there’s a great book called, you probably know it, The Body Keeps the Score. And our bodies often tell us the truth about the reality, that we are in an abusive situation.

Jon: That’s really important. I don’t know what question to ask, but I think we should talk about that, of just the person that’s being abused. How to track down what’s happening? And to know what’s happening in that situation, and how to diagnose that. Maybe it is just going to get help. Maybe going to get a therapist, having somebody that you can process it through with, and get down to the core of that. That’s so important. Is there anything else on that topic? I don’t even know what question to ask. Is anything coming to you guys?

Cassie: I think the question that maybe you’re asking there is, what specifics can you give, direct specifics for someone who would maybe potentially feel like they’re under a narcissistic leader? What do you suggest they do? What steps or what things could you give in a bullet form?

Jon: Yeah. Can I be healed or should I just jump ship and go away?

Chuck: Yeah. Well, for the person who’s under an abusive or narcissistic leader, narcissistic relationship of some kind, you’re again, you’ve got to attend to how it’s impacting you first. I mean, you really… Put the oxygen on your face before you help another. I can’t get out if I’m suffocating, and hoaxer in relationships, situations, vocations, like this are often in coping mechanisms that can be really painful or problematic. I was working with someone recently who’s very dissociative, and she would go to work. And it would be like she would tune out, if you go out of body. And yet she was taking all this abuse from her ministry leader boss, this was a Christian organization. And we had to get her back in touch with her body before she could even decide, this is what I want to do.

Chuck: And once she got back in touch with like, “This hurt, ouch.” We decided, in terms of the steps now, she decided, “I need to go. I need to leave.” Some people will discern, as was the case in a very public situation up at Willow Creek Church. Some women there discerned that we together, will confront this more publicly. And you might go that route. There are any number of different pathways to take that just requires a lot of discernment. And you always want to do that with other Christians who get this, and community.

Jon: Do you think it’s more prevalent whenever the person that’s being wounded by the wounder has a wounded past of their own? Does that makes sense? Where hurt people hurting hurt people is worse. And if somebody is being under a narcissist, but they have a good identity, they knew who they are in Christ, they don’t have any baggage, they don’t have any wounds from their past. Are they able to cope with it better? Do you ever see that in play?

Chuck: I do, because I think that there’s a greater resilience. I think they’re more aware or they tend to be more aware when something’s off, and I will find often that people who find themselves really intertwined in narcissistic relationships, they’re being abused in some way or another. They’ll often trace something back to their own woundedness, their own pain, their own abuse. They’re like, “Ah, I didn’t see it again.” And I would even say in my own story that I found myself repeatedly in situations where I’ve been under narcissistic leadership. And I haven’t seen it as clearly at first as I should have. And that’s due in part to a much longer story that I don’t need to tell now, but there’s work that I’m continuing to do even in my own life, as I’m saying this out loud, by the way. There are listeners who are like, “Wow. Maybe I can finally get to a place like Cassie or Jon or Chuck where I’d be able to spot this right away.”

Chuck: And I want to say is, it’s really hard. Even if you’ve done a lot of work in your own life, if you’ve got wounds, if you’ve got pain. I mean, followers of narcissistic leaders idealize them. We all want someone on earth. This is his oldest, the Old Testament, right? Give me a Moses, give me a golden calf, give me someone, give me a king that I can touch. Someone that I can see that represents God right here, and right now. Give me that megachurch pastor who represents God if you’re in now. So, we idealize. It’s a great human disposition, I guess you’d say.

Jon: Wow. That’s so good. I have a random question that I’ve always wondered. Does the narcissist know that they’re a narcissist?

Chuck: Yeah. Okay.

Jon: I know that’s a random question. I’ve just always wondered.

Chuck: Yeah. I’ll be curious to hear what Cassie says about this. I would say that someone who is pathologically diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder, in other words, they are elevated on that spectrum, they fundamentally lack self-awareness. And so, they will be the most defended whereas someone who maybe struggles with a bit of narcissism, there may be elevated a bit there. As a number of people are, who’ve reached out to me by the way, over the last six months, but who are humble, and who are more self-aware, they’ll say, “Hey, wow. A lot of this stuff is really resonating with me. And I think I see myself by the way, in that type one that you mentioned in the book under the nine phases. And I think I need to do some work around this. What do you suggest?”

Chuck: I don’t think that that person is diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder, unless with one caveat, I’ve come across… I used the word vulnerability in this book, take vulnerability. There are people they know psychological language, and they can get you in, and they’ll come to you, and they’ll say, “Well, I took my Myers-Briggs, and I know my Enneagram, and I know my this and that. I just want to be humble, Chuck.” And it’s BS as we say, in the North. [crosstalk 00:37:35]

Jon: Sure you can.

Chuck: Don’t believe it.

Jon: Wow. That’s so good. So, Cassie, I’m going to begin to land the plane here. And so, if you’ve had a question that you’ve been burning to ask, now’s the time.

Cassie: I do have one question. I mean, just along those terms of what you’re saying, because I think even in the book, you talk about the story about the couple that comes to you, and they really want you that to make that pastor. Just approve and tell us he was great. And then, the reality is you can’t do that because you find that he’s able to speak, and do the things but he’s not really there. And I think, so, it leads me to, you mentioned in the book, and just what I know overall is that you’ve developed an assessment, I think, and I would just love for you to speak to that. Because I think that could be a tool for pastors to use, and people in ministry to use or engage with, that might help them, and their team to be healthier.

Chuck: Yeah. So, you’re talking about the assessment work that I do, and what do I do with that? Is that right?

Cassie: Yes, exactly.

Chuck: Yeah. So, the specific tool that I’ve found most helpful in assessing for narcissism is called the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory. There are other inventories like this, there are other tests of personality disorders, but the Millon, the MCMI-IV is a particularly good tool in the sense that it puts every person on the spectrum, and it gets it some other categories that they’re beyond the scope of this conversation that I find helpful. Now, I attempted to test, and a test is only good in so far as it serves a larger conversation. And the story that you mentioned was a church planting assessment, where you’re with couples generally for a few days. And so, you’re observing, so I’m taking lots of data.

Chuck: There are lots of data points along the way. And so, I get a personality test like Myers-Briggs or any of that kind of stuff. I have my MCMI, but then I’m doing a lot of observation, and interviewing. And so, I’m interviewing the spouse, trying to get a sense of what their married relationship is like. And in the case that you mentioned, I mean, there was an adoration for this particular guy. He’d already raised a lot of money. They just thought he looked the part, dressed the part, had the perfect wife, and it was a Ken and Barbie scenario that made me want to throw up. And as I’m observing, I’m seeing condescension, I’m seeing passive-aggressiveness, I’m seeing a lot of entitlement, I’m seeing I want to go first, let me show you how it’s done. Coronach me.

Chuck: And there was a real disconnect because what I saw as significant features of narcissism, they saw as confidence. And so, yes, I’ve got a particular assessment process. I give my feedback, others have their feedback, right? And we see where it goes, and I’m sure you have stories to tell too Cassie, but it’s amazing sometimes for me. I can be looking at the same thing as someone else, and come to a very different conclusion based on my own clinical experience, and understanding of narcissism.

Cassie: Okay. So, just to sum up what you said in one sentence is, pastors need a therapist. It’s really what I hear. You got to be [crosstalk 00:41:13].

Jon: I agree.

Cassie: You get into all the clinical things, but it’s the fact that what you’re saying is a more global conversation. Allow a therapist or someone that has the authority to speak into your life, to mentor you, to really speak into your life, to say to you, “Hey [Joe 00:41:30]. Hey [Phill 00:41:31]. Oouu, that’s a little off. We might need to talk through that.” And then they could give you an assessment, and talk you through that. So, I think that’s one thing I’m an advocate for, is everyone needs a therapist, specifically-

Jon: Yeah. Well, I mean, why wouldn’t we? I think the difficulty for a lot of pastors, and leaders is we don’t know how to open up to people that serve under us. That can be a challenge, to be vulnerable to people that serve under you. Not saying we shouldn’t, but it can be a challenge whereas a therapist is more of a peer to peer, having a conversation with somebody. And the good thing is there’s the client privilege. They can’t say anything. You can tell them anything you want. I mean, I think every leader needs somebody that can look them in the face and say, “You’re wrong. You’re just wrong, and you’re not right.” And that’s probably the biggest problem for most leaders is we don’t have anybody that can look us in the face, and say, “You’re dead wrong.” Without being worried about any consequences.

Chuck: Yeah, or as I said to a pastor two hours ago, “You’re just very ordinary.” And that’s a compliment-

Jon: Yeah, who’s ever going to tell their boss that?

Chuck: Yeah, right? But I think there’s something to say sometimes for just like, “You’re leading a very ordinary life and that’s a good thing. That’s okay. You don’t have to be the best, the most special, the greatest, the biggest.” And I do think that there’s this sense of, especially with social media today, endless comparison, he’s written books, he’s got the followers, they’ve got whatever it is, right? And yeah, sometimes I have to remind myself, “Chuck, you’re ordinary. This book is ordinary, blog. This podcast is squash.” I think we all did so long. I know I have a deep ache, deep hunger to be seen, to be known, and that can go in directions that are really dangerous. So, I just got to be aware.

Jon: So, not only do we have narcissism in the church, but there’s a culture of up and coming ministers that aspire to be narcissists because that’s what we’re looking at as the… That’s where I want to get someday. You’re talking about social media and the comparison, and we compare ourselves to other pastors, and many times the people we’re comparing ourselves to might be narcissists. So, now I’m aspiring to become one, which seems just preposterous, right? It seems and sounds crazy.

Chuck: And then that message of deficiency is always there, right? That’s where it began in the garden story. The serpent slithering up whispering, “Surely God is holding out on you. There’s so much more available to you than God is.” And there’s a whisper of deficiency in our ears that’s so powerful.

Jon: So good, Chuck. And I just want to thank you for coming on again. It means so much. And I want to give you one last chance here to say just a few more words, but I want to tell all of our listeners, listen, you really need to get this book. If it’s, even for yourself to analyze, and focus on yourself. If you’re on audio, you can get it on audio. If you want to read it, you can purchase it on Amazon, I’m sure. Chuck, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you on? Can they follow you on social media? Are you on social media? Where can they get the book? Just give us that run down.

Chuck: Yeah. I’m on social media at Chuck DeGroat in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Just because I need people to compare myself to. So-

Jon: Well, I’ll get on Instagram here in just a little bit, and follow you, and we can compare each other and be insecure.

Chuck: Right. I’ve got a website, chuckdegroat.net, where I do a little bit of blogging every now and then, and I’ve got some other resources, not a whole lot, but yeah. So, I teach up at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan. So, if you want to come up here, and give me a hand shoveling, we could have a free counseling session.

Jon: That’s a good, a free counseling session for shovels. That’s not a bad idea. So, give us two or three takeaways. Our listeners that are going to go out, and get your book, and read it. What are two or three things you really hope they get out of it?

Chuck: Oh, wow. Well, so one, and I discovered this well into my writing but it was an aha moment. One is, you’re not crazy. And I think there’s so many people who are in the orbit of a narcissistic leader. There’s a sense that there’s something wrong with me or I’m crazy. And sometimes, I just need to say, you’re not crazy. I think this is real. I think you’re onto something. That’s one, I think another one, and this is going to be like, “Duh.” But you’re limited. I’m limited. I think I talked about it in the book. I love the season of lent. I love Ash Wednesday because I love to be reminded that we were dust, and to dust we shall return, and that’s good news. We are beloved dust. I don’t need to be extraordinary. You don’t need to be extraordinary.

Chuck: God uses us in our vulnerability, and in our weakness, and in our limitations, and in our ordinariness. So, and I think that that’s good news. If we can get back to that, I know that there’s a lot mitigating against that, especially with the culture of narcissism that we’re living in. But if we can raise again the dignity of the pastoral call, and vocation as one that is very ordinary. Like the guy I talked to a couple of hours ago who I mentioned, who’s pastoring a congregation of 40, and feels like it’s not enough to realize that what a beautiful call, location, opportunity, you have to care for them. And so, those are a couple of things, I’m sure I could see a whole lot more but I’m really grateful. You both have lots of really good questions that I want to get to know you more now.

Jon: Yeah. Well, I plan on following you on social media here in a minute so, we can connect. I would love that. Dr. Reid, thank you for joining us. You’re always brilliant. You’re always awesome. And I’m so honored that you’re on faculty here. Appreciate you so much. And Dr. DeGroat, thank you again for coming on. I feel like we’re friends now. Maybe I should just make you my therapist. That’s what I should do. That’s how we can get to know each other.

Chuck: Then come shovel for me.

Jon: That’s right. Well, thank you so much. To all of our listeners, thank you. Whether you’re a leader in the local church or in ministry or in the marketplace, we pray that this podcast blesses you, and encourages you, and challenges you. And thank you for listening. We’re praying for you, and all of the work you’re doing for the Kingdom. Thank you again for listening, and we will see you next time.

Church InTension
Church InTensionhttps://church-intension.simplecast.com
The Church InTension podcast is a place to have healthy conversations about areas of tension and the intentions of the Church. Hosted by Dr. Jon Chasteen and powered by The King's University and Gateway Church.