Healing From Emotional Abuse: What Does The Bible Say About Narcissism: with Pastor David Gilleland

Healing From Emotional Abuse: What Does The Bible Say About Narcissism: with Pastor David Gilleland
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Can you heal from abuse?  What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day.  And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough.  Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation.  But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist.  Yours doesn’t have to.  To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.

Marissa: Welcome back to Breaking Through Our Silence. I know I say this every time but I am so honored to bring in my amazing, amazing friend, Dave Gilliland to talk to us today. Dave is an asylum officer with the Citizens and Immigration Offices, a veteran, a survivor of child sexual abuse, and a Southern Baptist pastor for the First Baptist Church of Coal City, Illinois. But before all of that, he is my former co-worker, amazing business partner, and long-time friend and travel buddy. We worked together at the 416th Tech Army Installation working in suicide prevention. Thank you so much for being here, Dave. Oh, my gosh, I miss you.

Dave: It’s awesome. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my little slice of the world on such an important topic. I’m really excited to be here. Thank you.

Marissa: Well, thank you so much for being so open to talk to us. So today, I really want to focus on how religion plays a role in abuse. I have been confronted with several people reaching out asking about what they can do, because they are very devout in their religion, and feel very stuck in their abusive situation. So, as a pastor, if somebody were to approach you and say, “I’m in an abusive relationship, but I don’t know what to do,” what advice would you give them? What would you say to them?

Dave: Well, you know, every person is different, and every situation is different. So, I don’t know that there’s a boilerplate answer. I’m actually dealing with a couple of different couples that are going through divorce right now. One from my church, one from my extended family. And there’s been a culture for a really long time. In a church culture of you don’t divorce unless there’s some kind of sexual infidelity or things like that. And there’s definitely biblical precedent for that. At the same time, I don’t think that people should take such a legalistic view of the Bible that they stay in an abusive relationship. I can’t imagine that Jesus would want you to stay and be abused. I just don’t get that from the Scripture. So typically what I would do is I recommend counseling . I don’t counsel myself, because I’m not a counsellor, you know. I’m just a guy who happens to be a pastor on the side. I don’t have a counseling  degree. So I outsource counseling , but I recommend counseling . I do recommend reconciliation, as the main goal. You know? Restoration, reconciliation. Let’s not walk away from something that’s broken if it can be fixed and restored. You know? That’s even better. Sometimes people just don’t want to put in the work because it takes work. So, you know, definitely counseling . I don’t want people hiding and just suffering abuse for no reason. I don’t think that’s a good way to live. And I don’t think that honors God to live that way either.

Marissa: That makes sense. First, I like that you said that you don’t think that Jesus would want somebody to suffer through abuse. And I agree with that. I’m Jewish, by tradition and by blood. So, Jesus has never been a part of my life, but, from what I understand from Catholicism and Christianity and the sects of Christianity, I also can’t imagine that a person that preached tolerance and non judgment would want you to suffer. Right?

Dave: Right. There’s, a whole school of thought, it comes, like I said, from a very legalistic perspective. Kind of an old school cultural perspective that, you know, the man is in charge. And, you know, the scripture saying that your body is not your own, it belongs to your spouse. And that has really been misused and abused. Some people may say, some pastors may say, “Yes, you should suffer just like Jesus suffered.” And, you know, I think that’s a real misinterpretation of Scripture. Jesus always confronted people in their sin. I mean, he never just ignored sin. But, he did it in a loving way. And he would say things like, “I’m the judge, not you.” Basically, who has no sin cast the first stone, right? All of us have our sins; all of us have our shortcomings. And I think God, if you look from the whole creation story at the beginning, if you look from the Torah, all right, all the way through the new testament to Revelation. God, continually, constantly over and over again, is about redeeming and restoring. And I think that when people are in an abusive situation, you should try to fix it. Sometimes it can’t be fixed. And I think there is a point where you just got to walk away. And I don’t think it’s the Church’s responsibility to make people feel guilty about that, to harm them. You can be guilt tripped in staying, or there’s a lot of different ways that we can manipulate people into doing things that they don’t want to do. And I don’t think that’s the Church’s job. I think the Church’s job is to redeem all of those types of things. To love. And that’s ultimately, I mean, you can get through these things. I’ve seen marriages come back from the brink. Most of the broken marriages I see, there have been a little bit of direct abuse. Like emotional abuse, or some verbal abuse. But most of the time, it’s years and years of neglect, right? It’s about not dealing with things as they happen. It’s not, it’s about trying to cover them up or to cover them over, instead of addressing it right then and there. And what happens is when people hold on to their stuff, and those hurt feelings build up; those wounds add up. And then there’s a point where everything just explodes. Right? And then it’s just a big, giant mess. Like I said, I’m dealing with two divorces right now and that’s exactly what happened in both of them. One is a 13-year marriage. The other one’s over 20 years. And it’s simply because they have neglected their marriage over the years and they’ve abused each other in that way. They’ve not taken care of each other. And now, there’s, you know, very little hope for reconciliation.

Marissa: But what about people who are, not to, you know, downplay anything with the couples that you’re working with, but the people who are in verbally or emotionally abusive relationships that are persistent? Abuse is classified as a pattern of behaviour that cycles through honeymoon, to tension, to explosion. And so those are the people that I’m concerned about, truly, that feel guilt ridden to stay.

Dave: Well, again, I guess I would recommend counseling first, for any of those situations where there’s sexual, physical, verbal, emotional, try to get some help. There’s a point when you are enabling somebody else’s mental illness, right? Their stuff’s being projected on you, and they’re taking it out on you. If I ever struck my wife out of anger, she should walk out the door. Right? She absolutely should. That said, we’ve been married for 20 years, we should get counseling, if that’s possible. I grew up in a very abusive home, with an alcoholic father. And I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Oh, I’ll never drink again, I’ll never hit you, again. I’ll never do this, again.” And there comes a point when you know, right, that those words mean nothing at all. Right? Words go so far, but then there’s got to be some action. So, in the church language, we would call that repentance, right? And what repentance means is, it doesn’t mean saying, “I’m sorry for something.” It means basically doing a 180. I was going this direction, now I turn around and I’m going in that direction. So, if I’m being abusive, I’m going to quit being abusive. And I’m going to start being loving and supportive and encouraging and all those things. So, when I’m dealing with people from a pastoral perspective, one of the first things I look for is, how do I see these people behaving towards each other? Are they behaving towards each other with criticism and sarcasm and a lack of integrity? Or are they trying to love and care and compassion? Do you see those things in their actions? Because what you ultimately want is you want that person to say, “You know what? Yes, I am wrong.” So, we would call that, you know, confession. “I’m wrong. This is wrong, and things I’ve been doing is wrong.” So, they’re displaying some humility, right? And then they say, “I’m going to change my ways.” Then we create some action steps. What is that going to look like? Number one, you’re not going to hit or you’re not going to say these things. You’re going to go to counseling. You can go to counseling together, but you also should go separately. And then we create some action steps. And then we really just want to check in with that other person, the victim, the person is being abused. And see, is this actually happening in day-to-day life? Because usually, when I see somebody, it’s once a week, once a month, at the most, if they’re going through something like that. So, you want to keep checking in with that other person. “How’s it going? How’s it going?” You can tell if somebody’s really turned it around. If they really want to restore. If they really want to repent. I’m using a lot of our words, but it’s just the way it kind of plays out. You know, if they repent and they start taking those actionable steps, you really want to try to support keeping those people together. If they’re not, then, and I can’t make that call, you know. At some point the victim has to, I hate even using the word victim, but the person being abused, has to make that call. And I think, as a pastor, not every pastor is like this. Not every denomination is like this. But for me, I’m not going to dump a guilt trip on you for doing that. You know, I don’t have to live with the abuser. You do. And there is definitely a point now. You know, the flip side of that is somebody says, “Oh, my husband came home and had a bad day and, you know, threw his car keys at me. I’m leaving.” Well, okay. I have bad days, too. Is this habitual? Like you said, is it a pattern? Or is it a bad day. You know, some people will look for anything to get out of a marriage. And some people stay too long. And that’s got to be a personal call.

Marissa: That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for saying all that. So, I wanted to bring this up: in vows, in marriage vows, it says “I vow to love, honor and cherish.” And those three words are powerful words, but they’re also really vague. So, a lot of times, people will use that as a way to guilt somebody into staying, right? Like, “Well, you vowed to love, honor and cherish me.” But then on the flip side, that person isn’t feeling loved, honored or cherished back. So, can you just give what your opinion of that is?

Dave: Sure. I mean, in an ideal world, that’s what we would all do to each other, right? I’ve been happily married for over 20 years now. Do I love, honor and cherish my wife every day? No, not as much as I should. I take her for granted. And she would say the same thing to you, you know? Because we’re human beings. And that’s just the way we do. A lot of people don’t even put those things in their vows anymore. What I more specifically point to, and you know, if I was a really good pastor, and I had been really prepared, I would have looked up the exact scripture reference for this. But in Ephesians, Paul tells husbands and wives, and this is the one that probably you hear most often, is wives submit to your husbands, right? Yeah, I mean, it does. It’s wives submit to your husbands as your husband submits to Christ. And so, a lot of men will use that and say she’s supposed to submit to me. Well, it says, as you, the man, are submitting to Christ. Most men aren’t submitting to Christ the way they want their wife to submit to them. So, it’s not it’s not a license to abuse, it’s not a license to oppress. It says, husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands. And I think it’s interesting that those two words are used with those two genders. Because it seems like sometimes the most difficult thing for a man to do is to show love. And sometimes the most difficult thing for a woman to do is show respect to a man. And, you know, there’s a lot to unpack there that you could unpack. But the thing that I tell married couples, when I’m getting ready to marry somebody, is the wedding is a day. A marriage is a lifetime. And it takes work; it takes intentionality. And what it really takes is selflessness. If you are putting that other person above yourself, each and every day as much as you can, and they are doing the same, you have a much higher chance of being successful. You are putting in 110% every day, and they’re putting in 30%. At some point, you got to say this is dumb, right? This just is dumb. And that’s, I think, when you ask for help, and you address it, right? Because if you don’t, then what happens, again, is you go 3, 5, 10, whatever years. However you decide to cope with it until you just blow up, and you’re like “I’m done.” And it doesn’t matter what happens now. So, should we love, honor and cherish? Yeah, I mean, I should love, honour and cherish you as a human being. Do we do it? We’re not great at it, a lot of times. Just look at social media, right?

Marissa: That’s true. I think that we’re at a point in society. And this is a total 180. But, we’re at a point in society where social graces have kind of gone out the window. And we’re kind of so disconnected because we are so overly connected, that the need for human contact is satisfied by turning on my phone and going on Facebook. So, I don’t feel the need to shoot you a text message every week and say, “Hey, Dave. How are you doing?” And I just think that’s so sad. And I think that plays a big role in the way that people relate to each other and why abuse is so rampant.

Dave: I think, too, that you see, you’ve probably heard this before, but there’s a degree of anonymity even if you’re friends with a person on Facebook or Instagram. There are things that I see people say on social media to each other that they would never, ever say to their face. And I think, in a way, and I’m not going to say that all social media is from the devil. I think it’s just the way we use social media in such a poor manner. But, I think it has really decreased our communication skills. I think it has really taken away from the way we communicate with each other. And I certainly think there’s probably a correlation to the way we communicate in the marriage relationship in that sense, as well. It’s a lot easier to get in my friends group and chat with my buddies about how horrible my wife is, instead of just actually saying, “Hey, babe, what you said to me was, the way you said it was disrespectful. And what you said hurt me.” How hard is that to do? And if I said that to my wife, she would be crushed. You’d be like, “Oh, no, I didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t mean it that way,” or “This is what’s going on,” you know. And we can have an actual conversation about it. People don’t seem to want to do that anymore. I don’t know why. And I think maybe one of the reasons is because social media makes it so easy to not have to do those things, right?

Marissa: I guess it sounds so silly. But there’s a thrill in picking a fight with somebody or saying something that you would never say to somebody’s face on social media. Because there’s really no, there’s no consequence. I can go on and use really mean words and attack people. And the consequence I get is a couple more people will call me a bitch. That doesn’t really mean anything to me, right? So, there’s like a thrill in that. And then the more you do that, you just get used to that kind of aggressive negativity. And it becomes much easier to speak in that way than like you said, than it is to confront the person that’s actually bothering you. And my mentor, Jack Canfield, has said to me, on several occasions, that we complain about things to the wrong people. So, his biggest example, his main example, is we don’t go around and complain about gravity, because we can’t control gravity, right? It just, it is. It exists. But people, like you said, will go to their friends and bad mouth their partner, or, you know, will attack somebody on social media, and complain in that way. Call everybody from different political sides ignorant, and stupid, and dumb, and whatever. Because it’s so much easier to do that and be validated than it is to confront a person and be honest. 

Dave: Right. And sometimes, my wife, like I said, we’ve been married over 20 years. And there have been times when she’ll say something that has been hurtful to me, you know. I’ll say something back to let her know. But at the same time, that’s also an opportunity for me to do a little bit of self examination. Why did that particular thing, that touched a nerve. And why did it touch a nerve? Right, and I think that’s another thing that we lack. Because what you mentioned about being validated, right? It’s much easier for us to go out and find people who agree with us than to do some hard self-examination on why we say the things that we do, or why we behave the way we behave.

Marissa: Right. And that’s a really hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. 

Dave: I’m not the most overtly religious, you know. I’m not a traditional. So, just so your folks know, I don’t have a seminary degree. For me to be a Southern Baptist pastor is nearly unheard of. I’ve got a lot of tattoos; I have a divorce in my past. You know, it was definitely ordained by God that I ended up with the Church. There’s no other way to explain it. I don’t have the most traditional approach. But I have to feel from my faith; what I see in the Bible, or what I read from my faith, is that it is always, like I said, about, there’s hope. There’s hope for change. That people can change. Abusers can change. People that have been abused can heal, right? I think that’s the most awesome thing about the Christian faith, is that it offers that opportunity. And in our tradition, God, the Holy Spirit enters into you, into your life. You surrender your life for His. And what that means is you surrender your will, your hopes, your desires, your dreams, your goals; you surrender everything for His. And when that happens, when you make that choice, when you do that surrender, you know, we feel then that God starts to work through you. And when He does, He can radically, radically change your life. And I’m telling you, you know, if you talk to guys that I was in the army with, I didn’t get all these scars and tattoos because I was in Sunday school my whole life, right? I rode motorcycles, I ran with a rough crowd. I did some, you know, some very hard things. My parents owned taverns when I was growing up. So, I was raised in a very toxic, you know, chemical, alcoholic, abusive infidelity. I mean, it was just rampant. Everybody did it. You know, as a child growing up, I thought everybody lived that way. And I’m a pastor. I mean, there’s no, it makes no sense. I’m more compassionate. I used to be so mean and just use and abuse people. And now I feel like I’m so much more compassionate for my fellow man. I have no other way to explain it other than God. And I think that’s the greatest thing about faith and about spirituality, is that it gives an opportunity for change, it gives an opportunity. Paul says in Second Corinthians 5:17, the old is gone, you are a new creation, right? You get to, that doesn’t mean that you get off scot free, right? Things that you do have consequences. There are still consequences that I pay for, for things that I did 30 years ago. It doesn’t give you a blank check. But it gives you a new start. And that can happen for so many people. Sometimes it’s really hard for them to accept that these patterns of behavior are so ingrained. And sometimes it’s just easier to be abused, or to abuse, than it is to think of a new way of being, or a new way of doing.

Marissa: People can change when they want to. And I truly believe that I’ve seen people change. And so, I completely agree with that. I think your congregation, because of everything that you’ve gone through, and how you got to where you are now; I think your congregation is so lucky, because you’re relatable. I think one of the things that I, for a lack of a better term, distrust about organized religion, is that the person that you are praying with, so like the rabbi, or the priest, or the pastor, they are these nearly perfect beings. And that makes them really intimidating and difficult to confide in, in my very, very humble, non-religious opinion. So, when I was doing grad school, I had to write a paper about domestic violence in the ultra orthodox communities. And I learned that these people who were going to the rabbi for help, were basically turned away and told that they need to fix their household because they are the ones that are imperfect. And I think that that’s so dangerous. So I, first and foremost, want to thank you for being who you are, and being the leader that you are. Because I think that you’re helping a ton of people, just by having an imperfect background and an imperfect view, that people don’t need to be perfect. They just need to be willing to change.

Dave: Again, this is all cultural stuff. And I’m talking about church culture, specifically American church culture. Where there is this kind of American Dream gospel, this American Dream philosophy. Where if you’re the man, you wear the suit; you go to work. And the wife wears a dress and raises the babies. And everybody goes to church smiling on Sunday morning. And that’s the perfect life. And that’s just not realistic. And it never has been. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s never been that way, right? And what you get, then, in that kind of philosophy, is you get these religious leaders, from all different faith traditions, that end up being put on a pedestal, because they are spiritual leaders. Some of them, let’s be honest, like the pedestal. They like the attention. They like the power. And it’s always just a big recipe for disaster. And then you do start to get that kind of “holier than thou” attitude from people. And “Go fix your own self.” So that’s not the way God operates. I mean, you read the Bible, and that’s not the way He operates. Religious leaders are the ones that are supposed to be, the Bible tells us that we will be judged more harshly than other people. So, we really got to keep a check on the positions of power that have been given to us. I would never tell anybody, you know, “Go fix yourself.” I would say, you know, “Let God fix you. The counsellor can help.” You know, God can use the counsellor. Some people need medication, I’m not opposed to stuff like that. But you get this sometimes, and Christians deserve it. I think, most of the Christians I know, I would say, don’t go to church because they’re so holy; they go to church because they’re so broken. And sometimes they get a bad rap that they’re holier than thou and they’re perfect, and they think they look down on everybody else. Most of the Christians I know are not like that. But there has been a culture like that for probably 30, 40, 50 years, maybe even, where people did feel like they had to act a certain way or behave a certain way to be, you know, quote-unquote, “acceptable.” And that even translated into the way they dress. The way you cut your hair. The way you vote, right? And if you didn’t do all of those things the exact way, then you were a failure, and then there was shame and guilt. That’s just not true. That’s just not the gospel. That’s not, that’s not real. That’s not what real biblical faith means at all. And the American Dream gospels kind of taken and twisted it, the idea of what success means in faith, and has really done way more damage than good.

Marissa: What would be your one take home point, for anybody listening, for the people listening? What would be like the one piece of advice that you’d give them?

Dave: So, I’ve got a bachelor’s degree. I got a master’s degree. I’m not the dumbest person in the world, but I know I’m not the smartest, right? So, I try to keep things pretty simple. And so, I would say, this really profound thing. s a pastor, I would tell people to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because I did not come up with that, Jesus did. If people could do those two things. If they could just focus on loving God and loving each other, man, that would make a huge change. Sometimes, we want to be right, more than we want to be compassionate. You know, why do we feel we have to be right all the time, right? Why do we have to feel like we have to be better than other people all the time? Why can’t we just lay down our stuff and lift other people up? There’s this whole system. The political system, the corporate system. The American dream, kind-of-ideal is about getting power, as much power as you can, right? Do whatever you can. If that’s building wealth, if that’s getting stuff, it’s all about building power, so that you can use that to spend. That’s capital that you can use to get what you want. And in many ways, it’s very oppressive; it’s putting people down. And I would say that the real gospel, the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, from a Christian perspective, is that you are releasing power. You’re releasing your power. And you’re using the power of God, that He gives you, a supernatural power, to lift people up, right? It’s not about putting people down. It’s about lifting people up. And I think specifically in marriages, if we spend more time communicating with each other, and lifting each other up, we would have a lot less problems. You know, who am I? But if you’re listening to this, and you are in an abusive marriage, and you are a Christian, go talk to your pastor. And if they don’t listen to you, go talk to somebody else that’s a godly person that you trust. There are people that will help you. There are Christian counsellors. You know, there is help available, you do not have to live this way. God never intended you to live like property or chattel, right? That’s not His design for marriage. The marriage relationship is supposed to be a reflection of the relationship that God has in the Godhead, in the Trinity. In the father, son and the Holy Spirit. The marriage relationship is supposed to reflect that. And God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit don’t abuse each other; they don’t talk down each other. They don’t slap each other around. They don’t take advantage of each other. And so, from a Christian perspective, if you’re in a Christian marriage, it’s supposed to be better than a layperson or just a non-Christian marriage. And if it’s not, you get some help. Just get some help. Get a counsellor. Go to your pastor. Whatever it takes, get some help.

Marissa: And if you do all that, and it’s still not healthy, or it’s still abusive, I have available a free safety planning guide on my website. It’s http://www.marissafayecohen.com/free-resources and it should be the first one that pops up. Reach out to pastors and spiritual guides and priests to whoever you look up to. Thank you so much for saying all that, Dave. You’re amazing.

Dave: Thank you for the opportunity. Like I said, I wish I was more profound and sounded a lot more holy than I do. But we know each other. I’m just Dave and we’re friends. And thanks for the opportunity to hopefully speak into somebody’s life.

If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!

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