Showing posts with label narcissism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label narcissism. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Worthy Read: Chuck DeGroat’s Upcoming Book, “When Narcissism Comes to Church”



Those seeking to understand the hot mess that is Planet Malm Grace Episcopal Church may want to check out Chuck DeGroat’s upcoming book, “When Narcissism Comes to Church.” The book is available for pre-order, with a release date of March 2020.

DeGroat is a well-known seminary instructor, licensed pastoral counselor, consultant, and coach who has done extensive research into the issue, including counseling narcissistic church leaders and churches hurt by their conduct for more than 20 years.

Like others, he understands that having toxic church leaders is devastating to churches. Or, as author Dr. David Orrison describes it:
“Narcissism” has become a way to describe the disordered personality that depersonalizes and uses others in its quest to think of itself as superior. Dr. Orrison sees this as a defining characteristic that can be found in organizations, including churches. Narcissists mold and use organizations to build their personal image, and the organizations carry the message to others.
DeGroat goes further, discussing faulty theologies of sin and forgiveness:
A shallow view of sin leads to a shallow repentance. Shallow repentance looks like admitting the troubling behavior and committing to not doing it again – case closed. And thus, shallow repentance leads to quick restoration. After all, who wouldn’t believe the sincerity of a pastor who preaches so wonderfully and charismatically, and who has influenced so many? Shallow repentance can look like blame dressed in the garments of personal responsibility – “I’m really sorry that hurt you.”
(Astute readers will note the dramatic similarity of the fauxpology above to Bob Malm’s abortive “apology” to Mike, in which he says, “I’m sorry you were upset...but....”)

Apropos forgiveness, DeGroat says:
All of this (above) leads to an expectation that the narcissist and/or abuser will be forgiven (which also means restored). In this, the burden quickly switches from abuser to victim, as anyone impacted is asked to forgive quickly and fully out of a spiritual duty. Anything less than full forgiveness is narrated as angry, petty, grudge-holding, and un-spiritual. Within this is a pitifully vacuous theology of Grace – again, grace as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
In the meantime, you can read DeGroat’s reflection on the destruction wrought by narcissistic church leaders/systems and their lack of spiritual and personal integrity here.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Heaven Help Us: More on Interims and Organizational Narcissism




In earlier posts, I discussed organizational narcissism and the challenges it poses for an interim and Grace church. This article more fully explores these concepts, with an emphasis on the difficulties organizations face when they seek to change.

So what is organizational narcissism? (Note that we are here referring to the high self-esteem variant. There are others.)

A concept in organizational psychology, the term describes an organization that is unable to behave ethically because it lacks a moral identity. While such organizations may not be intentionally unethical, they become self-obsessed and use a sense of entitlement, denial, and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Source: Duchon, D. & Drake, B. J Bus Ethics (2009) 85: 301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9771-7. As a result, the organization is blind to its flaws and weaknesses.

While academic research into organizational narcissism in churches is limited, experts are in agreement on two key points:
  1. Such organizations find it profoundly hard to change.
  2. While narcissistic organizations may adopt ethics and other policies, such efforts will have little effect.
Industrial psychologists also note that such organizations often are headed by a narcissist, in many instances adopting their persona. And all organizations, just like humans, have personalities, learned behaviors, and ways to respond to stress, problems, and challenges. In short, organizations have personalities, and can choose to act in an ethical manner, or not.

And so it is with Grace. Bob Malm and the church both, in my opinion, lack moral identities. Both use a sense of entitlement, denial and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Both have behaved in ways that to outsiders are shocking and unethical, including:
  • Committing perjury
  • Making false police reports
  • Proferring false statements of fact and law in court
  • Trying to subpoena a dying woman in violation of state law
  • Referring to those entrusted to their pastoral care as “domestic terrorists,” “sick,” “twisted,” and “sad individual[s], starving for attention.” (Projection, anyone?)
  • Lying to members
Indeed, one of the reasons that Grace church has gotten away with these behaviors to the extent it has is that these behaviors are so over the top; few readily believe that a church would engage in such conduct, particularly in a hierarchical organization like The Episcopal Church.

Similarly, just like an individual narcissist, Grace church demonstrates little introspection, either on an individual or collective level. For example, parishioners fail to see the laughable irony when they leave Mass on Sunday, having just made their confession, and flip off protesters. Nor has there been any organizational demand for accountability by Dysfunctional Bob or Sugarland Chiow. Indeed, the parish saw the former off with a celebration of his 30 years of “ministry.” Yes, there were many good aspects of Bob’s tenure, but any situation in which it’s okay to commit perjury and bully the dying is hardly cause for celebration, even when taken as a whole.

So where does that leave things? Like the alcoholic who tells herself that, “I can stop any time,” Grace church is in denial. Beautiful liturgy and cordial relations with fellow parishioners mask the underlying reality, which is that the parish is a hot mess. And just as narcissists create a false image for themselves that they present to others, so too does Grace Church create a beautiful illusion of a friendly, welcoming place.

Moreover, just as telling an alcoholic that she has a problem rarely goes well, so too will the interim who steps into the breach discover that efforts to fix problems at Grace are unwelcome. First will come the inevitable comparisons to Bob, then the fun and games with the altar guild and choir, eventually leading to the new person being declared the source of all the church’s woes. “Things were fine when Bob was here, so it’s obviously the interim’s fault,” will be the refrain, conveniently forgetting that things were far from fine.

Even worse, the one person who potentially could help the parish move through these issues has checked out. Much like the bishop had to write a letter  to ask parishioners not to visit Bob Malm during his recovery unless specifically asked to do so, Susan Goff may be the one person who could step in, speak at a parish meeting, ask people to tone it down, to be open to new approaches, and to fix long-standing problems. But with +Shannon having weighed in to express his full support of Dysfunctional Bob, doing so involves an implicit repudiation Goff’s none-too-successful predecessor. Nor is the diocese great at issues of this sort: Even on how way out the door, +Shannon proclaimed that everything was going well at the diocese, despite the fact it clearly was not.

Additionally, +Goff refuses to respond to emails about Bob’s misconduct and reneged on Pat Wingo’s offer to be a resource following our meeting in Fredericksburg, Thus, she has scant credibility and zero first-hand knowledge of my issues, or the larger issues in the parish, which center on power, abuse, respect, the baptismal covenant, and the notion of being the Body of Christ. And after providing the diocese with multiple opportunities to help work towards reconciliation, I want nothing to do with those knuckleheads. Indeed, the diocese appears best suited to meaningless liturgies and laments over slavery and racial injustice, and reflections on reproductive rights. Real social justice has proven repeatedly to “not be of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” Plus, with membership in The Episcopal Church plummeting, these days the church is too small for anyone to care what it thinks anyway.

My advice to interims: Think twice. Even a highly skilled and very determined expert in interim ministry faces a daunting task, plenty of stress and anxiety, and potentially lasting damage to her or his personal and professional reputation.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Hurricane Alert: Bob Malm Rides a Storm Surge of BS Out the Door



In this month’s Grace Notes, Dysfunctional Bob’s last before retirement, he offers a short blurb about “things left undone,” during his tenure. True to form, it’s an utter piece of BS.

  1. Bob only addresses “those things undone” during his so-called “ministry.” While items on that list are myriad, Dysfunctional Bob blithely says he’s tried to make visiting members a priority. Coming from someone who has pretty much been “out of town” any time he has felt like it, who takes six weeks a year of leave and then some, and who has plenty of time for golf, running, and traveling, let’s just say I’m not feeling it.
  2. Dysfunctional Bob conveniently overlooks the other side of sin, which is those things he has done. Bullying the vestry into an insanely generous compensation plan, pushing Mike out of the church/Christian faith, refusing to address misfeasance, nonfeasance and bullying among parishioners and staff, committing perjury, trying to drag a dying woman into court — the list of things Bob has done even surpasses the many areas of his nonfeasance. Nor do I see any sign that Bob will address any of these issues on the way out the door. Being the bully and coward he is, Bob clearly hopes to leave those issues to his successor. And yes, anyone who goes after a dying woman, or Mike, is a bully and a coward, as well as a lowlife.
  3. As to Dysfunctional Bob’s hopes for the Legacy Society, few will leave anything to the parish if the rector is free to unilaterally terminate their membership. The parish belongs to parishioners — those who pay the bills and provide the labor that makes things happen. The rector is there to serve the parish, not the other way around. Until the unbridled clericalism of  Planet Malm is addressed, all I can say is “don’t hold your breath.” And nowhere do I see any sign that Bob has left money to the parish in his will. Res ipsa loquitur.
  4. True to form, Bob’s list of outstanding major building projects is much too short. The faux slate roof still needs to be replaced, there’s tons of rotting wood trim, the nave needs adequate air conditioning, the 1989 double-pane windows need to be replaced, the pole lamps in the parking lot are overdue for replacement , inefficient lighting needs to go, basement windows need to be replaced, and water lines in the original building are at end of life. In short, there’s a ton of work to be done and major bills to go with it.
  5. Bob asserts that people have forgiven him for those things left undone. While folks at Grace are generally good in that department, it’s also fair to say that, being unable to effect change, members in many cases are more resigned that forgiving. That’s in keeping with Dysfunctional Bob’s modus operandi: Do whatever the hell he wants/ignore things, apologize on the way out the door, give a hug, and keep right on trucking. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. Don’t need another.
  6. The key thing missing from Bob’s article is the elephant in the room. Being the narcissist that he is, Bob has focused attention and adulation on himself, not God. Like all narcissists, he is toxic, and through thought, word, and deed has taught the parish to be be an organizational narcissist. In short, he has created a toxic parish in which it’s okay to lie, bully others (even the dying) commit perjury, encourage others to commit suicide and more. Indeed, in the midst of his efforts to portray me as a “domestic terrorist” and mentally ill, the one thing that never came up anywhere in the parish was any love or concern for my mother, Mike, or me. The Jean Reeds and Kemp Williams of the parish may bloviate about their Christian faith and being “servants of Christ,” but their lack of concern for others puts the lie to their words. And I have plenty of internal church emails that prove my point. Yes, Bob can be friendly and charismatic, but friendly and faithful are not the same thing, and Bob’s faith is nominal, at best. Moreover, if you doubt Bob is a narcissist, just look at his narcissistic rages—those over-the-top explosions that happen when he feels threatened. I’ve seen several, and they are utterly contrary to any standard of Christian conduct, as well as strongly suggestive of narcissism. Please quote me on that.
At this point, I primarily feel sorry for folks at Grace Church. Bob Malm played them, and he is leaving a huge mess behind. Worst of all, many in the church still have absolutely no clue that the parish is a mess. Indeed, many regard the toxic morass at the parish as normative, which is a sorry state of affairs on multiple fronts.

So, as a counterpoint to Bob’s empty triumphalism and BS about how Grace represents “true religion,” and “taking part of Grace with you,” I offer up this question:

If Grace is such a slice of paradise, why the current state of decline? 

PS Lisa Medley claims the church is “thriving.” If that’s the case, why did Fanny Belanger walk out two years early? Why have more than 1/3 of pledging units left? As I stated previously, lying has become normative for many parishioners and underscores the fact that the church is toxic.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Some Free Advice to Grace Church



As members of Grace Church, you have some interesting times ahead of you. During the coming year or so, you’ll begin the search process for a new rector. That’s a daunting proposition, especially given that Dysfunctional Bob managed to settle in for 30 years. So, here is some advice for you, worth exactly what you paid for it.

To begin, it’s important to approach the future without bias. A great many of you think Bob Malm’s wonderful, but if you are able to take a step back from the superficial charm, Bob really has not been a great rector. Whether it’s his costly decision to buy a personal residence, the ludicrously generous compensation package he jammed through the vestry, his interfering with the operation of the vestry, his lack of interest in the administrative side of his job, his sense of entitlement, or his stupid decision to drag the church into litigation, all have been profoundly damaging to the church over time. Yet few within the church recognize this, and it’s going to be hard for parishioners to gain perspective.

It’s also true that the church is damaged goods. Real leaders left the parish long ago, and behavior that you all consider normative is profoundly unhealthy. This includes the belief, seen on many fronts within the church, that if you don’t get your way, or you don’t like something, it’s appropriate to bully others. Both the choir and the altar guild have repeatedly shown this behavior, and the way people talk to and about each other is just ugly. The mere fact that folks at the church think it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide reveals just how toxic Grace has become. And Bob Malm’s courtroom perjury is so over the top that outsiders likely can’t even comprehend how troubled the church really is, let alone believe that a priest behaves like this.

With that in mind, it’s very important that your next priest not be a narcissist. Self-absorbed, with a sense of superiority and entitlement, narcissists often exhibit great charm. They are often very articulate, and great actors, adept at saying just the right thing at the right time. They also invariably lack real empathy for others, and believe that that the ends justify the means.



The problem is that such behavior is profoundly toxic and counter to Christianity.

Instead, your next rector needs to be someone whose primary goal is servant leadership, someone who is focused on healing, reconciliation, health and wholeness. 

Churches being what they are, you’ll be tempted to fall for the so-called shiny new penny—the man or woman who visits the nave and says in a seemingly sincere voice. “This...is a holy place.” That person will deliver a great sermon and come with legions of admirers.

Unfortunately, those also can be hallmarks of a narcissist. So your job will be find the rector who’s articulate, friendly, but also compassionate and service oriented. The right candidate may not be the rock star that the narcissist seems to be, but instead will be solid, steady, hard-working, and loving.

There also will be a tendency to want to draw on those already known to the parish. This would be a mistake. Thus, following Bob’s retirement, folks will be quick to suggest pulling in David Crosby and others in close orbit. But David, of “Bobby Malm, You’re Amazing,” fame is nothing if not a Bob Malm fanboy. As such, drawing on David and similar sorts as supply clergy all but guarantees that you’ll get a heavy dose of what I’ll term “Bob Malm light.” That is the very last thing you need right now.

A final observation: Things have reached the point that if you flub the selection of the next rector, Grace Church will be gone within the next five years. You simply cannot get it wrong. So take your time, pull in lots of data points, and set aside the petty bullying and bickering. And consider actually praying and attempting to listen, versus propounding your own views.

You have a long, hard row in front of you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Bob Malm: Is He Dangerous?




Bob’s repeated assertions that I am dangerous raise an important question: Is Bob Malm himself dangerous?
Before we go further, let me say up front that I don’t know the answer to that question. But I believe there is reason to be concerned, and both friends and family members think Bob may be dangerous. Here’s why.
As I have said before, quite some time ago I concluded that Bob Malm, aka Dysfunctional Bob, is a malevolent narcissist.

Bob appears to be very focused on obtaining ratification, attention, and adulation, while simultaneously believing he doesn’t need anyone else. At the same time, Bob’s own needs seemingly come before those of anyone else — just look at his relationship with Grace Church. Bob is sure to get every last minute of leave and every last dollar of compensation permitted under his letter of agreement, but for many years he has been indifferent to his overall job performance. All of these observations, if accurate, would support the conclusion that Bob is a narcissist.

At the same time, Bob appears to manifest the classic “narcissistic rage,” when he feels he’s criticized, cursing, yelling, carrying on, and trying to intimidate others, despite the fact that such behavior should be unacceptable for any clergyperson. 

Coupled with this is Bob’s seeming sense of being special, of entitlement, his apparent ability to manipulate others and their perceptions, and his lack of accountability—all hallmarks of narcissism.

So, assuming I am correct that Bob is a narcissist, it follows that Bob likely manifests other aspects of narcissism. This includes projection, which is intrinsic to narcissism and at the very core of the disorder.

What is projection? It’s the behavior and thought process by which a narcissist attributes his or her own feelings, behaviors, and inadequacies to others. This allows the narcissist, who is outwardly confident but is inwardly very insecure, to avoid dealing with these uncomfortable thoughts. Indeed, this behavior is so much a part of narcissism that experts regard it as a way that narcissists “out themselves.” Or, as one author puts it:

All narcissists tell on themselves. Projection is the process through which they reveal who they are and what they’re doing...through projection, they call you what they are. They accuse you of doing what they are doing or planning on doing.” See: https://medium.com/@OwnYourReality/projection-the-narcissists-weapon-that-can-be-used-against-them-7ebb63848998








So, in light of Bob Malm’s claims that I am “violent and threatening,” (his exact words) and that our conflict is a “case of domestic terrorism” (from his court pleadings), one has to ask the question: Is Bob Malm violent and threatening? Is he possibly contemplating conduct that would place me and my family or members of Grace Church/School in danger?

I don’t know the answer, but my suspicion is that, if Bob thought he could get away with it, he wouldn’t be above a violent act. That said, my bet is that he would be more likely to pursue me, versus members of Grace, which appears to be a major source of narcissistic supply for Bob. If nothing else, Bob’s courtroom lies and decision to pursue an elderly dying woman in court speaks to his sense of boundaries, and what they say is not good.

My advice: Be very, very careful of any clergyperson who refers to current or former members of his church as “terrorists” and thinks it’s okay to pursue elderly, terminally ill individuals in court. No matter how you parse it, and no matter the underlying cause, there’s a serious issue afoot.