Be Kind (but not nice)!
Marti Wibbels, MS, LMHC
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Those words, from Ephesians 4:32, aren’t in the form of a suggestion; they’re a command. We can be kind—not because someone deserves it but because of what Christ did for each of us on the Cross. Ian Maclaren said, Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. That hard battle is evident when people are rude, impatient, or unkind—acting like bullies rather than being compassionate.
Now is the perfect time to develop new strategies for dealing with bullies, especially when they take out their pandemic frustration on people they know—or on strangers. Dr. Elizabeth Bernstein defines a bully as “someone who tries to intimidate another person, often repeatedly, whom he or she sees as weak or vulnerable.” Dealing with a pandemic’s “constant fear and anxiety fuel anger… less face-to-face communication… decreases empathy, while anonymity—or the illusion of it—makes it easier to misbehave,” adds Bernstein. But God hasn’t changed; as Christians, we don’t need to be defined by others’ behaviors! Ephesians 5:8-10 shows us how to live as children of light instead of darkness.
In psychology, the traits of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism are commonly referred to as the Dark Triad. With the addition of sadism, the triad has morphed into a quartet known as the Dark Tetrad. Behind closed doors and even out in public (where, masked, we’re no longer able to see each other’s faces), the Dark Tetrad’s troubling traits steadily erode kindness. Are you being bullied by a member of this dreadful quartet?
The psychopath lacks a conscience and doesn’t care who is hurt by his or her own selfish behavior. The psychopath’s lack of empathy can leave others feeling confused—or crazy, since the psychopath cunningly blames them for what he or she does. Created in the image of God, you do not have to tolerate being steadily destroyed. For help, please read Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.
Machiavellianism includes a person continually (with great charm and finesse) manipulating others for selfish gain. Ever since the 1500s, when Niccolò Machiavelli promoted the concept that “the end justifies the means,” Machiavellians' adherents believe they have the right to be right. Proverbs 11:13 offers an antidote: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” Be the person who is trustworthy, humble, and kind, doing to others as you would have them do to you.
Narcissists feel they’re actually much better than others, and their needs are the only ones that matter. In When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, Dr. Chuck DeGroat says, “Narcissists do not feel like the world is safe. They might not say it aloud, but this is their inner experience…the shadow dance of a narcissist is a dance of radical avoidance of anything that threatens his grandiosity, his control, his certainty.” The narcissist’s deep internal pain wraps others in its tentacles of rage, shame, or fear. Healing can happen, but both the narcissist and those in his or her life will likely need extended help before that occurs.
The sadist takes pleasure in inflicting pain on others. If you watch carefully, you might notice sadists exhibiting a hint of a smile when your body language shows you’ve been hurt, frightened, or upset by their cruel words or behaviors. Those living or working with sadists often feel helpless and overwhelmed. It’s important to learn how to place clear boundaries—spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical limits— between you and the sadist so you can not merely survive but thrive.
If you’re living with someone who exhibits the Dark Tetrad’s abusive behaviors, it’s safer and wiser to be kind than “nice.” Nice tries to placate bullies, but appeasement only increases their sense of power and control. Since abuse is never OK, being kind includes setting loving limits, respecting yourself, and experiencing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
To learn how to a) love an abusive person without opening yourself up to more damage and b) provide realistic consequences for bad behavior without succumbing to hate or revenge, you could read Bold Love by Dr. Dan B. Allender and Dr. Tramper Longman III (NavPress).
Instead of living in the pandemic’s fear-driven anger, confusion, anxiety or depression, we need to know who we are in Christ. He never changes! You can discover hundreds of verses in the Bible that will help you understand God’s kindness and unfailing love. When we know who He is and who we are in Him, our attitudes and actions are transformed by God’s lovingkindness! In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:12, ESV).
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Thank you! I appreciate YOUR kindness!