A person’s SBCMB can have a significant effect on those in their sphere of influence, especially over the long term. While those who exhibit SBCMB seem to wholeheartedly believe their view of moral and personal reality, it is ultimately a distorted reality. The more you live in this reality and try to love and care for the person on their distorted terms, the more the incoherence can affect you personally. This can be very disorienting, and even—for those who live a long time in the person’s world—traumatic. Both those who are sympathetic to such individuals and those who are opposed to them can end up spending inordinate amounts of time and emotional energy relating to them, or being involved with their projects or groups they lead. Some people end up confused and disoriented (“crazy-making”); others become exhausted; still others display more serious long-term effects. For those who seek to deal with the behaviour properly and maturely, the task of disentangling the issues and responding to the person themselves can take vast amounts of time, effort and emotional energy.
For those in close personal relationships with those who exhibit SBCMB, the effect can be particularly difficult, and even, in the long term, traumatic. If you are in such a relationship, you may find the person to be an “emotional black hole”: that is, the person’s emotional needs and sense of vulnerability may be so strong and overpowering that they become a centre of emotional “gravity” that compels everybody else’s emotions to orbit around them, or to get swallowed up entirely. No matter how much love you try to give to them, it falls into their emotional gravity well, and does not get reflected back to you in any meaningful way. They set impossibly high standards for supporting them and loving them, and when those impossible standards are not met, they express their continued disappointment with you (either to you and/or to others). To use another metaphor, a person who exhibits SBCMB can take up all the emotional “oxygen”; nobody else can breathe too deeply (i.e. express or feel their own personal emotions), for fear they’ll cause that one person to suffocate. This can lead to long-term emotional issues, including trauma, for all concerned.
The behaviour is particularly problematic in the context of Christian leadership. Those who exhibit SBCMB demand very high levels of love, sacrifice, loyalty and commitment. They are also often disappointed in people when their standards are not met, and those who exit the sphere of influence because they can’t cope with the demands become “the bad people”. In the context of Christian leadership, the demand for such sacrifice and loyalty and commitment is normally directed towards their ministries, i.e. the project or the church or group they are leading. These ministries are often in effect extensions of themselves; but the demand for a commitment to them is normally phrased in terms of loyalty and commitment, not to themselves, but to God. Christians desire to live our lives out of commitment to God, and to love people sacrificially, as Jesus has loved us. However, as Christians direct their commitment towards the ministries of those who exhibit SBCMB, they are met with exceedingly high demands and frequent disappointment in them by the leader. Thus, they can end up feeling anxious, confused, wrong, and inferior as Christians, and in the end can doubt their own ability to discern reality.
In our experience, those who exhibit SBCMB create situations where significant numbers of people in their spheres of influence end up being confused, or feeling that they are going crazy, or feeling traumatised. Nevertheless, the most extreme situations of emotional confusion, while real, take quite some time to manifest. It’s “slow-burn”. This is why it’s so hard to see anything especially “wrong” in any individual conversation or contact with them. It is also why it’s often difficult to give it the simple label of “abuse”. However, we believe the effect is real, especially over the long term. This is why we believe it is important to describe the phenomenon in such detail, so that it can be recognised.
It is also why we need to provide some further reflections on how best to respond to those who exhibit SBCMB. This is the purpose of Part B.
Read the next section: Part B: Responding to SBCMB
Copyright © 2021 Lionel and Bronwyn Windsor
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To read the whole paper: Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours
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