Sunday, May 10, 2009

DSM IV Axis II - The Church's Dirty Little Secret Part IX -Narcissistic Personality Disorder Part III

The Choice of Sophia

I wanted to conclude the Narcissistic Personality section with a true case study. I may end this DSM thread after this . . . although there are disorders to discuss. I just don’t want to run it into the ground..

In case you are just joining this discussion, I wanted to add a little caveat. The catalyst that started on this thread was hearing a forensic psychiatrist on the Today Show make the comment that “Church people are naive about mental illness.” I happen to agree.

I also think there is a purpose in having dialog about these issues. For one, once we know that certain behaviors are actually the signs of mental illness, rather than them being just immature Christians, it helps us to cope with the situation. It also helps us steer away from their webs of chaos. Lastly, it should help us figure out how we can help them. A magic wand made of Bible verses doesn’t make mental illness instantly go away. But many of these mental health problems are helpable, if treated appropriately.

The case before us is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I searched my mind trying to come up with the best example I could think of. I mentioned that Saul (in the Bible) seemed to suffer from it. I’ve known a couple of doctors who certainly had it . . . but neither were Christians so they don’t make good examples. I’ve known a few Christian men over the years that seem to fit into the description, but I feel a little uneasy defining them as having NPD when I’m not sure. However, one person, my aunt Sophia, has a NPD for certain . . . and she expresses this disorder within the Christian context. I hesitated on using her story because she, being a woman, is not stereotypical.

Remember, the key factors of NPD are 1) A grossly over-inflated view of themselves, 2) a deep insecurity, 3) using other people for their own gain without hesitation and 4) believing that they are so important that they are above the rules (civil laws, Biblical laws and social mores).

My earliest memory of my aunt Sophia was that she was the most important person in our extended family. I didn’t know why. She and my uncle lived in a big house on the top of a hill. They always drove brand new Cadillac cars (the red-necks’ BMW). Oddly, she always drove the car and my uncle sat silently in the passenger’s seat. He carried Sophia’s huge, designer pocket book wherever they went. She was always well dressed, even for a family picnic. As a small kid I always thought it was odd that my uncle was constantly waiting on her. “Bring me some water, bring me a sandwich, go find that book, and go get the mail,” she would say . . . and the orders went on and on like he was her butler.

I got to know Aunt Sophia well when I was sent to live with her for a week each summer for the “refinement of my social skills.” She ran a very formal household. Dinner was proper, at the table, with real china and silverware. The biggest problem with this life style was that my uncle worked in a factory. I didn’t figure out that they lived above their means until I was in high school. How they did, I’m not sure, but later I will share some thoughts that may shed light on it.

Sophia never worked outside the home . . . nor even inside. She had an elderly, emaciated woman (in her eighties) who cleaned her house, scrubbed her floors on her hands and knees and cleaned the toilets. Sophia always called her “Granny.” She was always giving Granny orders . . . clean this better and take that garbage out back etc. Honestly, it wasn’t until Granny died (and I was in the eleventh grade) that I realized that she was Sohpia’s biological mother. She never paid her mother a dime for her maid service over forty years. After granny had died, my sisters and I learned that my own 85 year old mothered had been procured by Aunt Sophia for the same janitorial services in her home, at about $5 and hour. My mother has always suffered from false guilt and a very low self esteem (which is another long story) so she has always been vulnerable to people taking advantage of her, like her sister-in-law Sophia. My sisters and I quickly put an end to this indentured servitude.

The way that Sophia was able to coerce my mother into this role of being a maid, and this is typical behavior of NPD people, was through guilt manipulation. My mother’s brother, Sophia’s husband, had died a few years earlier. She would tell my mother that cleaning her house several days a week is what he brother would want.

Sophia was also known within our extended family as the most “Christian” of all our relatives. She and my uncle, if you saw them on a Sunday, wore a chest-full of Sunday school attendance metals. They had so many that they looked like some third-world dictator. All their vacations were planned around them being in a city on Sunday morning where there were Southern Baptist Churches so they could attend. They would get a letter of attendance from that pastor to keep their 20 year perfect attendance record going.

Both were leaders in their Baptist church. Sophia, until this day, has been the official money counter. She collects all the offerings, takes the money home, counts it and deposits in the bank. She loves that role (wink, wink). I will add at this juncture, while my mom was still cleaning her house, one day she ventured into my aunt’s bedroom (which Sophia had told my mother never to go into) and she opened a chest of drawers looking for blankets to make up the guest bed. When she slid open the drawer, my mom found it stuffed to the brim with bundles of cash. There must have been thousands and thousands of dollars in that drawer. My mother asked Sophia about it. She explained that she keeps the money for a couple of the elderly women in the church because they didn’t feel that the banks are safe. My aunt also persuaded them, as the church’s money handler, to make her the administrators of their estates.

My uncle had been a deacon for all his adult life. Both of them, but especially Sophia has always worn her piety on her shirt sleeves. My uncle and aunt gave $1200 toward our financial support when my wife and I went as missionaries. They made a huge deal about their gift. I’m sure they would have loved to have had a photo in the newspaper with them holding one of those giant checks and handing it to my wife and me. Since that date (back in 1988) Sophia has held that gift over the head of my mother as leverage for manipulation. The most recent example is where Sophia talked my mother into giving her 25 year-old oxycontin addicted grandson a “loan” for $1500. Her pressure included, “I gave your son $1200 for his mission’s trip so it is now time to pay back the money.”

Sophia was not sick that often. She didn’t suffer from a somatization disorder (what they use to call hypochondria) but when she was sick, her illness was grandiose. For example, if she were sick this week, it would one of the “proven cases” of Swine Flu (even though she wouldn’t give any proof). She calls all her doctors, including specialists that she has dealt with by first names. “Yeah, Robert wanted me to meet him at the Hospital so George . . . you know the cardiologist . . . could look me over.” Her medical stories invariable end up with some famous doctor being, “flown in” from Duke University, or maybe New York City . . . just to go over her case.

I haven’t mentioned that Sophia has a daughter named Karen, whom she has groomed to be just like herself. Karen may have more of tendency of somatization disorder as she has had many more grandiose illnesses and specialists around the country being flown in for her behalf.

Sophia had put great pressure on Karen to marry well. She always was arranging for Karen to date doctors’ or lawyers’ sons when she was in high school. I allowed Sophia to set up one blind date for me when I was in high school. It was with a beauty queen (Miss local city) and who was the daughter of a doctor I believe. I never took her out on the second date because I felt so awkward.
Her daughter did marry well . . . twice. First she married the son of the largest land tycoon in the area. She eventually had five children with him, all of whom became addicted to prescription medications by the time they turned 20 (including the one who was trying to borrow money from my mother).

Oddly, the movie The River, staring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek was filmed on Karen’s farm. The two actors lived supposedly in my cousin’s house for about six months while the movie was being made. During this time, it was like my aunt was their best friends. It seemed that all she could talk about was “Sissy” said this or “Mel” said that . . . then she would laugh. My aunt actually did have a role in the movie. It was very fitting. She was singing a hymn in a church. It took all day to shoot the scene. Sophia thought this would launch her career . . . however; the footage was cut from the final film. But for years Sophia talked about her buddies, Mel and Sissy . . . like they called her every day for her advice.

The next time that I heard from Sophia was when she sent me an instruction manual (handwritten) for my wedding. It told me how to behave properly during the ceremony, what is the proper role of the groom at the rehearsal dinner, etc.

She continued taking advantage of my mother over the years. Up until this day, she will bring my aging mother’s house bushel baskets of fruit and ask her to make jam for her or Karen. She will pay my mom $10 for the 20 hours she puts into it. My sisters and I have tried to keep her in check as she was doing this weekly up until last year. My poor mother is getting old and tired but Sophia has this odd lack of empathy (which goes along with most personality disorders).

The last saga in Sophia’s life happened a couple of years ago. Karen divorced her first husband when he declared bankruptcy about a decade ago. Then my aunt arranged for her to meet a grocery store tycoon . . . whom she married (my cousin is very beautiful, which gives her an advantage). Soon after that, and with her new husband’s money, my cousin ran for Congress . . . and was not elected (by a landslide). This was despite my cousin’s and aunt’s attempts to visit all the Baptist churches in their district telling them that God had called Karen to Washington and wanted them to vote for her.

Soon after the election, Aunt Sophia was arrested for shoplifting. It was very embarrassing to have her name in the paper. However, she came up with the story that she had been framed in order to persecute her and her daughter for standing up for the Lord.


Anonymous said...

So interesting... Wow.

It is interesting especially for how easily she fit into the church world--even lauded.

This is not necessarily to *blame* the church world...the NPD can fit anywhere, since they are master manipulators, so blaming the people they manipulate seems kind of unfair, especially since so often the church will only know them on superficial levels, but...

I guess what is interesting to me is how (generally speaking) the church appears no better at recognizing the NPD than the world does. Yet we are the church...meaning, we are the ones who live upside down from everyone, right? We are supposed to value different things, judge by different standards (I'm thinking the fruit of the Spirit here, things like love, joy, peace, patience...things that mark those who are mature)... You would think the NPD would show up really quickly in an upside down world. Yet my experience has been opposite.

My (over-generalized) explanation is that our way of doing things in the church world is generally by the same rules everyone else plays by. We say we're in a different kingdom, but we seem to still be playing by old-kingdom rules...and old-kingdom rules are a great place for an NPD to hide.

MJ said...

"This is not necessarily to *blame* the church world...the NPD can fit anywhere" - Certainly. The medical world (where I work) is full of NPD.

Yes, that is were we should be as wise as serpents. People with these disorders are real chameleons. They can fit in really well, leaving in their wake, a lot of people hurt and confused who feel they are the one's to blame.

I just spoke to my mother (Mother's Day thing you know). She lives next door to Matt, a deacon at her church and who comes across as very spiritual all the time. They heard and argument between him and his wife. They looked out the window and saw him hit her in the face so hard that she about fell to the ground. She quickly drove away.

My mom called friends of the fighting couple out of concern. They said that they knew that they had been trouble, but the trouble, from what they understood, was that "SHE wasn't being the kind of wife that God wanted her to be. She wasn't keeping the house clean and Matt's clothes ironed. Matt was sending her to a marriage enrichment conference for the "submissive wife." So I guess that gives him the permission to beat the hell out of her.

pennyyak said...

It was a good series. Hope you pick it up again if something relevant strikes you. Sometimes I get lessons in life out of stories of how "I don't want to be". Had dinner with a "rich" friend last night, and she has let many people borrow money when they were in bad shape. But then, some don't pay it back as they say they will, and might think that this is okay since she "really doesn't need it, and I do". I personally know two of these people, and I have known them to take vacations and otherwise spend money they do not have to spend. If they were willing to send her one dollar a month, that would be fine with her. Rather, they say they will send her X amount, then send nothing. Using people is not justifiable, but it is not all that uncommon, even among people with no recognizable personality disorder.

I rather shudder to think of the times when I have done similar things, in large ways and small.

MJ said...

Sometimes people see me as being too hard on people. I'm really not. I use to be. But now it is the opposite (I think). What I'm trying to say is that none of us are nearly as perfect as we were led to believe (as Christians) that we could be.

Yeah, we all do these things and it is a matter of degree.

Anonymous said...

My (over-generalized) explanation is that our way of doing things in the church world is generally by the same rules everyone else plays by. We say we're in a different kingdom, but we seem to still be playing by old-kingdom rules...and old-kingdom rules are a great place for an NPD to hide. -- Adventures in Mercy (Molly of the Far North)

This is called "Of the world but not in it", a fairly common sight these days in Christian Bizarro World.

Had dinner with a "rich" friend last night, and she has let many people borrow money when they were in bad shape. But then, some don't pay it back as they say they will, and might think that this is okay since she "really doesn't need it, and I do". I personally know two of these people, and I have known them to take vacations and otherwise spend money they do not have to spend. -- Pennyak

Pennyak, don't you know that "You're Rich" is the first half of the Feeding Cry of the Leech? ("You're Rich! YOU GOTTA GIMME!") I got very familiar with this in various fandoms; since I had an actual job and actual income, I got the rep as being Rich (TM) and got hit up by every mooch-boi in the fandom (with sob story after sob story and screaming denunciations of "HOW COULD YOU BE SO SELFISH!!!!!!" every time I refused).

"Remember, stealing is wrong. But They're RICH, so that makes it OK." -- The Simpsons episode "Homer and the Seventh Commandment"

-- Headless Unicorn Guy

pennyyak said...

Headless, you are the modern culture maven. You need to have a blog so every time I need some esoteric knowledge I can ask you. Why don't you have a blog? It would probably be great.