Dysfunction Junction Blog


By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | March 16, 2016 at 08:20 AM EDT | No Comments

It is 5:30 a.m. PDT and I can't sleep. In fact, I have not had a good night's sleep in over a week.It seems I overstayed my welcome in the church where so much of this happened that got me started in researching and writing about Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Pastors.


My office was there for the past 5 years or so. I worked side by side with the new pastor to bring healing and create a new, more transparent culture. But I have been slowly withdrawing from the wide range of ministries there, some of which I had been a major part of for some 15 years. Part of it was due to my belief that my generation (the infamous Boomers) needs to get out of the way to allow the younger generations more leadership opportunities. 


But another part of it has been the increasing need to walk on eggshells as this work becomes more widely known. It seems that someone in that church has been tracking our writing about NPD pastors, and was infuriated.


I have always claimed that the calling and profession of Peacemaker is dangerous. Early last week, someone kicked in the door to my office, went through my desk, and knew me well enough to take the only thing there that mattered: a wooden bowl hand carved by my father before he died. The door had a solid wood core and only an adult male who knew exactly where and how to kick could have done it. No other office in the entire building was touched. That in itself was a strong and clear message. What was next?


Then there was the radio interview last week. Not a single person from church came to me to comment or complain, though I did get a few kudos from members.Some complained to the pastor, though. He refused to follow our personal agreement, church policy, and the command of Jesus to require direct communication. Instead, he came to me with anonymous complaints and accused me of betrayal, saying that I reopened healed wounds. Well, they were never healed because we never confronted ourselves or what happened years ago. No one ever confessed their sin, repented, or sought forgiveness and reconciliation because the new pastor refused to consider getting everyone into the same room.


And so I and my family have left there with no place to go. My office furniture and books are stored in my daughter's garage until my new office is ready at the college.


Rev. 5:5. "Stop crying! The Lion of Judah is victorious!" And so it shall be.

From a Single Spark...

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | March 10, 2016 at 04:45 PM EST | No Comments

Glenn and I created a spark when we released the results of the Glenn's study on narcissistic pastors in Canada. Emails have been coming in faster and faster from people around the country who read the paper, including one of the top clinical researchers in America just a few days ago. This morning I received an email from a woman in Missouri who heard me on the radio yesterday in a 20-minute interview I did for the Janet Mefferd Today show and which was broadcast on 157 stations. She said it described her rabbi and a few others perfectly. Another email from that same broadcast related another experience with a narcissistic pastor.

So I decided to put the link in the blog.



We have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us!

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | February 25, 2016 at 07:20 PM EST | No Comments


The paper Glenn Ball and I wrote, and that I released in Nashville in September, has now been downloaded around 2000 times. I was also recently interviewed for 30 minutes on a radio show that was broadcast nationwide on more than 150 stations.  That is astonishing for an academic paper, but not so astonishing when the subject matter of toxically narcissist pastors is considered. We are now getting inquiries and pleas for help weekly, and sometimes multiple times within a single week. In every case, the writer's faith has been shaken and they plead to know how this has happened.


This has happened not only because we have allowed it, but because we have encouraged it. We have yet to see a church that does not have aspirations of greatness. They want to be unique, to stand out, and to grow. And so they look for what the narcissist is selling: grand ideas and big promises that they rarely if ever carry through to fruition. 


It is truly difficult to quickly spot the narcissist if he or she is pandering to your desires. They tell you exactly what you want to hear, and promise they they - and only they - can deliver it. They tell you about all of their great successes and how God has planted this grand vision in them to not only change the community, but perhaps the entire world. Like a bass staring at a night crawler, we bite and swallow the hook. Too late we begin to realize what we have done.


In a real sense, then, the enemy is us. In our naivete and desire to grow the kingdom of God, we instead turn it over to someone who wants his own kingdom with God not even in close vicinity.

Narcissist Pastors - Not a New Phenomenon

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | January 27, 2016 at 03:32 PM EST | No Comments

There is a tendency to think that narcissist pastors are a new phenomenon. They are not.

One case from history in particular stands out as the narcissism of this minister may have been the cause of calamity for his town and congregation. It is Stacy Schiff’s description of Puritan Minister Samuel Parris from her authoritative book, The Witches: Salem 1692: “Few of them dealt as severely with their congregants as did Parris. He could be tedious, mulish, sulky. In possession of standards, he liked for things to be done properly. He applied great energy to small matters; he had the proclivity for tidiness that creates a shambles. When the wife of tailor Ezekiel Cheever went into labor in early 1690, Cheever impulsively borrowed a horse from his neighbor’s stable without permission, presumably to summon a midwife. Resolving the matter fell to Parris, who required three meetings to do so. He demanded a public apology. Cheever readily submitted one. Parris deemed the effort “mincing”; he ordered the new father to repent again in the meetinghouse the following week. He was the type of person who believed he alone could do the job adequately and afterward complained that no one had helped. He could be petty.

“Parris tried to cram a great deal into a sermon; he could belabor, and exhaust, a point. He knew he often felt short but did not like to concede. . . The pewter tankards on the communion table were an eyesore. Could they not be replaced? (Wealthier congregations had silver communion pieces.) To the parsonage he brought a number of items rare in Salem village: his own silver tankard, a writing desk, and a mirror. He boasted a coat of arms, a rarity among Massachusetts ministers. He quickly began lobbying for ownership of the parsonage and its land. The request was not inappropriate but it was premature; towns made such grants to their ministers after long time service. The villagers demurred.

“Less than a year after his ordination, Parris compiled a numbered list of complaints. Neither the house nor the fence and pasture nor the salary nor the firewood supply met with his approval. His fence was rotten and on the verge of collapse. Brush over-ran two-thirds of the pasture. He could not subsist on an unpaid salary. Firewood he left for last. It was now the end of October. Without wood, he warned his congregants, they would hear no further Scripture. ‘I cannot preach without study. I cannot study without fire. I cannot live quietly without study.’

“To his petition Parris affixed a line in his signature brand of high-handed self-pity: ‘Let me add if you continue contentious, your contention will remove me either to the grave, or some other place.’ He understood that his predecessors had been treated more kindly. Nor were his predecessors as sensitive to the cold as was he, after nearly a decade in the tropics.

“The villagers met repeatedly to discuss their minister’s predicament; as early as the fall of 1690 a movement was afoot to dismiss him. The committee to collect his salary voted later in 1691 not to do so. . . ” Stacy Schiff. The Witches: Salem, 1692 (New York: Little brown 2015, 39–40)

Parris was the minister in Salem, Massachusetts. From this sparse narrative we can see the elements of toxic narcissism in Parris. His home life was no less strict and must have been very difficult for his wife and children. In 1692 his two daughters were the first young girls to begin accusing various Salem men and women of witchcraft, which eventually led to the Salem witch trials and the executions by hanging of nineteen people, including the village’s ex-minister, George Burroughs. At least four and possibly as many as thirteen died in prison. One, Giles Correy, refused to answer any questions and consequently was pressed to death (crushed with large stones) and his wife was hanged.

In other words, the phenomenon of toxic narcissism in the clergy is not a new issue; rather, it is newly recognized.


Words from the Victims of a Narcissist Pastor

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | January 02, 2016 at 06:08 PM EST | No Comments

In my last post I mentioned Philip, a youth pastor who had been viciously attacked by a pastor with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. With His permission, I am reprinting his email to me. Judge for yourself.


Dear Dr. Puls,

My name is Philip. Since you have your email address readily available on your website, I figured I's send you an email to share with you our journey. We hadn't come across your work until my mother heard you speak at the recent AACC conference in [Nashville]. She bought the CD audio and gave it to my wife and I saying, "You need to listen to this!" We have been researching resources on the issue of narcissism, manipulation, covert aggression, and spiritual abuse since November 2009.


Currently I'm in my final year of seminary, and my wife and I (in our mid-30'3 with 3 young children) have some serious trepidation about ordination and service in the church. The reason is that we spent 5 1/2 years under a covert-aggressive senior pastor while I served in full time youth ministry from 2007-2012. We realized what we were up against in 2009, and we managed to barely survive his assaults, traps, sermons aimed at us (damning me to hell in one of them), and many other devious tactics. The guy could weaponize a compliment in such a way that everyone in the room would think he was praising me, but only he and I knew he was slighting me.


My wife and I prayed and waited for the Lord to lead us out, and he did by calling us to seminary in ___. We left on good terms in 2012 (so we thought), but in August 2015 the elders held a congregational meeting after a third staff member (I was the second of 3 me4n to leave in 3 years). The elders (at the behest of the senior pastor) proceeded to tell disparaging half-truth stories about the 3 of us to prove that the senior pastor is not the problem, but that they had 3 really bad employees and each left for their own reasons. They rewrote history to protect the senior pastor and scapegoat the 3 of us in order to "bring about much necessary healing to the flock." When this news reached us, it all but paralyzed us inwardly and we felt as though we had never left. We realized that time hadn't healed our wounds, and that we needed help.


Needless to say, three and a half years later we still struggle with PTSD (occasional nightmares, general lack of trust in people, somewhat antisocial), and we are wondering how we can put the trauma behind us so it doesn't negatively interfere with out pursuit of ministry. We certainly appreciate God giving us greater wisdom and discernment in that we can sniff out a potential manipulator a mile away. That gift is not somewhat of a curse because I naturally and instinctively stay out from under the thumb of insecure flatterers who can tell I'm on to them, which of course draws their negative attention toward me. Yet I'd never give up the school of hard knock education we received by God's providential hand.


However, with all this said, we really need to heal more thoroughly, and though we have sought marriage counseling, pastoral/professor counseling, and even abuse counseling, none of these people seem to fully grasp the type of suffering we went through, and therefore have a difficult time empathizing with the depth of injury that remains within our souls.


We need help.


I know this is a long shot, but my wife and I would really appreciate speaking with you.


Now multiply their story by hundreds of thousands every year and you will have a better understanding of why this work is important.


Darrell Puls

Why I Do This Work

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | December 24, 2015 at 01:04 PM EST | No Comments


It is Christmas Eve 2015 as I write this. It seems appropriate for what I will write below.


People sometimes ask me why I still do this work. The answer was reinforced with an email I received a few days ago from a man I will call "Philip."


Philip is finishing seminary but not certain he wants to finish with ordination. He served under  a toxic narcissist pastor and it nearly destroyed him emotionally and spiritually, and damaged his relationship with his wife. He wrote that none of the counselors he had spoken with understood what it was like to be under narcissistic attack. He was deeply discouraged and ready to walk away from it all. 


They have been seeking help since 2009 without success. His mother gave him a CD with my Nashville presentation on it and for the first time he felt a glimmer of hope. Philip emailed me more out of desperation than in confidence. It was one of the most gut-wrenching emails I have received. One of the more striking comments was that his former pastor "could weaponize a compliment in such a way that only he and the pastor knew it was an insult.


I went online and listened to some sermons by his former pastor. It was all there, but well disguised. The preaching was dry, intellectual, repetitious, shallow, self-aggrandizing, condescending, and impersonal. His one attempt at humor fell flat. It was more disinterested lecture than a sermon from a man called to ministry by God.


I called Philip and we spoke. I sent him a manuscript of our new book, Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It. His response: "You get it!" I called several people to begin praying for healing in this young traumatized family and Glenn Ball, my co-conspirator in all this, has also contacted them.


I am setting up a series of conversations with them individually and together to listen, listen, listen some more, and then help them find the path out of their private jungle and into the light once again. Healing will come. I have welcomed them into the Society of Wounded Healers and have every reason to believe that they will become a powerful force for healing.


That is why I do this work.


Peace and grace to all of you, and Merry Christmas.



A Christmas Gift for Your Pastor

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | December 16, 2015 at 01:57 PM EST | No Comments

Who do you know who might be a member of the world's loneliest profession? No, it's not a lighthouse keeper!  A friend reminded me of this yesterday, and it surprises most of us. It just may be your pastor!


For more than 20 years,pastors have almost universally reported that they have no one in their congregations that they trust enough to be completely open and honest with. No one.


Before you get all huffy, answer a few questions with blunt honesty: Have you ever passed along a rumor? Have you ever revealed sensitive information about someone else? How vulnerable is a pastor who reveals his or her shortcomings? Should your pastor feel completely safe with you?


We expect more than they can deliver. I once worked with a church that had a pastor's job description that no one could fill. They wanted a biblical scholar combined with a passionate preacher, the bedside manner of Mr. Rogers, and the social skills to keep everyone happy all the time. Yikes! And they wondered why their pastors always left - voluntarily or not - after just two years.


Let me tell you this from the inside: Pastors are no different from anyone else when it comes to human frailty - but we rarely allow them the pleasure of actually being completely human. They don't dare reveal their doubts or their fears because there are always those who would use these as weapons against them.


The result of having no one to confide in is isolation, burnout, and depression. Ninety percent of pastors quit ministry before retirement, many because they cannot stand the sense of isolation and being judged. Some leave with bitter memories and others leaves with a sense of utter failure.


Where is your pastor in all of this?


Does your pastor see you as trustworthy?


Give your pastor a Christmas gift that will never be forgotten. Be a true friend, no matter what happens!


As they say in Hawaii, Mele Kelikimaka!

Codependency in Narcissistic Relationships

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | December 14, 2015 at 12:27 PM EST | No Comments

People often ask, how does a narcissist act in real life? Well, I have a very real example that happened in just the last few days.

A narcissist keeps a spouse or lover more as a pet than an equal. If you are that pet, then you are owned and the narcissist feels no compunctions about pulling you in close – and shoving an emotional knife between your ribs both for the pleasure of it and to maintain complete control over you. The victim by this point is so deeply into codependency that he or she believes the attack was somehow deserved, and rationalizes the viciousness of it by arguing that he or she is really a wonderful and caring person who has an anger problem, but is working on improving. And so they enable each other into an ever deepening sick relationship.

Example: A younger man is living with his narcissist girlfriend in her house. She makes much more money than he, so she buys him things he could never afford such as $150 jeans and $400 shoes. She pays all the bills and buys the groceries. Eventually, he works for her at $12 an hour maintaining several properties she owns. After all, she is paying all the bills so his expenses are minimal. They buy a powerboat and then a sailboat, but both are in her name. In fact, everything is in her name except his pickup truck.

Then comes the explosion. She throws him out, but not before demanding that he repay her everything she has spent on him – and she has kept a ledger detailing every last penny, including food, clothes, trips to various resorts, even gasoline for the boat. He is suddenly homeless, unemployed, and owns nothing but his truck and the clothes he is wearing.

Three days later he is back with her groveling like a kicked puppy, declaring that he loves her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Welcome to hell.

People in healthy relationships have a difficult time understanding this type of codependency, but it is much more common than you might think.

What does this have to do with narcissist pastors? They have secret lives that only their spouses know, and the spouses are codependent. They dare not reveal what life is truly like with the narcissist because the vengeance on them will be swift and awful.

Hello world!

By Dysfunction Junction - A Place of Hope! | December 04, 2015 at 02:57 PM EST | No Comments

This is the new site of the Dysfunction Junction blog for messed up churches and the people in them!

The current series examines the frequency of one of the most destructive and least treatable mental disorders in Pastors: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It's based on the experiences of myself and Glenn Ball, my co-author for Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It as well as the results of extensive - and deeply disturbing - field research Glenn did all across Canada.






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