Narcissistic Personality & Abuse in Marriage: A Series is Coming

One of the reasons I’ve been quieter here lately, is because I’m neck-deep in helping several women who are in/coming out of narcissistic abuse. I have so much I want to say, and there are so many things that need to be said, and I’m still formulating an order of how I’m going to say them and put them in a series.  (By the way, I’m only mentioning my personal involvement for the purpose of credibility on the subject.)

I’d love to hear from you if you have any specific angles you’d like to see addressed. As of now I plan to discuss a variation of the following:

  • Am I married to a narcissist?
  • Why some Christian counselors avoid using the term “narcissism” and why they should use the term. Also how counseling can hurt the victim and help the narcissist. What the church  needs to know.
  • How do we help victims of narcissistic abuse?
  • What should you do if you are married to a narcissist? Is divorce biblical in this situation?
  • How to help our children avoid marrying a narcissist.

Those are a few topics rolling around in my head but I’m open to others if you want to offer suggestions. For now, I am deeply burdened at the brokenness and helplessness many women (sometimes men) feel and I am searching for ways to help them.

30 Responses to “Narcissistic Personality & Abuse in Marriage: A Series is Coming”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Is there any way to help the narcissist?

    • Rebecca,

      Generally, no there isn’t. At the same time, we can never underestimate the power of the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous. In the mean time, I do think there are particular ways one can cope which I will get to soon.

  2. Christie says:

    How a Narcissist fit the definition of the Biblical “fool” (see “How to Foolproof your Life”) and why is the advice that the church gives women TOTALLY neglecting the Biblical teaching to separate ourselves and protect ourselves from Biblical fools! (“How to Foolproof your life” does a great job showing that a narcissist is a fool, but completely fails to use the sword of the Word to cut THE SILVER CHAIR in pieces and set the captive free!)

  3. Shonni Hassoldt says:

    I am just finding out after 31 years of marriage that I am married to one. The reason it was harder to see in my marriage is because the abuse was through financial control (lies, stealing $, using my power of attorney to sign things, etc.), lies about other things, passively controls and blames me or the children, and a complete lack of emotional, physical or any other intimacies. My husband fits more the definitions of a covert passive abuser. I can say that I have never felt emotionally safe and I’m just now learning the depths of this hell. Many times I’ve asked for counseling and help and recently we went to a marriage counselor who really kept reprimanding me and how I felt about things. It’s like the counselor is telling me “hey this is a really nice guy, he’s trying really hard so I you need to forgive and move on.” I’m grateful that I’m going to a woman Counselor who is very passionate about this problem in our churches and the blind eyes and the muted voices in regard to this problem. I wanted to post on your website instead of the Facebook post, as for obvious reasons I need to keep things private. But I look forward to seeing what you bring to this conversation and pray for healing and help for myself and the many women and men affected by this .

    • Shonni,

      I’m so sorry. It’s such a hard reality to come to terms with. And I’m glad you found a counselor who understands. Just knowing someone gets it is a huge help.

  4. Sara Thompson says:

    I’m eager to read the series, this is a very really issue in my marriage of 15 years as well. I have an out biblically from adultery, but as I wrestled with this during a period of separation for multiple years, the Lord clearly told me to yield and to wait and see. So I stay, but I have to believe that there’s a purpose that He has for this. I have to believe in the power of God’s word and the the power of prayer to transform even the most foolish and rotten of human hearts. I have to believe that nothing is impossible for God. So I don’t say this lightly when I ask if you would humbly and prayerfully address help for the narcissist. There are virtually no resources out there. Which leaves us with virtually no hope. But I do want to know in the instances where the Lord is asking one to persevere through this, how we can make the situation the most manageable, how we can keep forward growth happening, what tools counselors can use to help narcissist. I firmly believe that narcissists love being narcissists. The blame shifting is so huge that it’s truly like they’re living in an alternate reality. I think that first off they have to become aware (recognition), secondly they need to be brought to their knees, (repentance), thirdly they need restoration discipling mentoring from a firm hand with blinders off under the yoke of our savior through the power is on his holy spirit. Lord Help.

    • Sara,

      You are absolutely right that they live in an alternate reality. It’s hard to believe. I wonder what the percentage is of narcissist who have been able to (truly) be made aware of their problem? That’s the unique thing: they seem to be unable to see any fault of their own.

  5. Stan and I got familiar with narcissist abusse and tactics when we began getting visits and calls from wives who were puzzled as to how to deal with the narcissist husbands. This malady cannot be dealt with using familiar marriage remedies, and the Christian books and classes do not help. It is more a matter of casting pearls before swine and shaking the dust off your feet. The target can avoid the abuse by recognizing the manipulation and learning how to deal with it. There are so many good youtube videos by people who have dealt with narcissism in their own lives. Sadly there are very few with a Christian viewpoint, but they are still extremely helpful. One old movie that shows some of the tactics of a narcissist is called Gaslight, and although scary, points out the little by little ways in which a wife was systematically broken down. We see the narcissist ways in some of the Bible people too.

  6. I also want to say that one of the first things a target should learn is that they become a target of narcissistic abuse not because they were not submissive, or that they have such terrible inadequacies, but because they are usually helpful, capable, sympathetic, creative, and generally can-do people who want the best for everyone. The narc sees them as the perfect mate because they can start removing their success from them. Ive known wives who cannot even clean house because the narc will not tolerate any kind of change or improvement in life, and he will not allow her to succeed at home, with the children, or even in marriage. And, the narc. lacks empathy, and can easily suck out the empathy the wife has just by keeping her exhausted trying to find ways to make her marriage work. One thing all narcs do, is find out what the mate likes, loves and desires the most (a happy marriage, good cooperative children, church, devotion to God, a clean house, talents, etc) and tries his hardest to prevent it from happening. The happy marriage lady will get thwarted at every turn , when the narcissist finds out that is what she wants the most. My mother in law was a victim of a narcissist husband and she was the most submissive woman in the world, and didn’t deserve the treatment he gave her. She often would take a break from him and visit her sister in another state. When she returned home, he was a better person, easier to get along with, for awhile. But when he began to play his selfish narcissist games, she would get ready to stay with her sister for awhile. This is a sad thing, to feel driven from your own home.

    • Lydia,

      Wow..yes, you describe so much of what I’ve seen and heard. I think the biggest problem in the church is that we are afraid to recommend divorce to these women, and we have a misunderstanding of what the Lord speaks of when He speaks of hating divorce, etc. What are you thoughts on that? I plan to write a post about it.

  7. Kelly, a narcissist is always scheming, playing mind games just like in Gaslight, where the husband told the wife she was losing things, forgetting things, or losing her mind. I believe God allows for divorce, but in many cases with a narcissist there doesn’t seem to be a scriptural cause, so the wife is left up in the air between a stable life and an unstable, uncertain life. For those who don’t want to divorce, it is perfectly Biblical to separate. God would not allow His people to be abused by the Philistines, or allow his children to stay in slavery, so why would a Christian woman stay in a place where her mind was being systematically dismantled until she becomes merely the shell of the vibrant person she once was. (And of course a narc is attracted to a happy, vibrant person because it makes perfect fodder for him). It isn’t wise to stay in a situation of captivity if it means losing your mind and ultimately your focus on Christ. In previous centuries you didn’t need professional help with a situation like this, because the brothers and the father and the people in the village would take the selfish boorish man out behind a shed and tar and feather him. We don’t have that kind of system today, and many women are separated from their families, and that is often the plan of the narcissist—to take his wife so far away from her family that she can’t go to them for help. One of the problems we are seeing is that the narcissist immediately after marriage will try to get his wife to hate her parents, or else tell her that being married requires she “forsake all others” which according to them, means the parents. He needs to get everyone she loves completely out of the way so she has no back up plan and no comfort anywhere. A narcissist will also do something called the Smear Campaign where he might even tell people at church that his wife is not submissive, or that she has mental problems, or is trying to divorce him. And then she wonders people are acting so distant and cool toward her.

    But yes I think there are reasons for divorce, and in MANY cases, if it were really investigated, the narc. has been or is being unfaithful. One reason he would run the wife down all the time is to bring her down to his own level of guilt so they will be equal, and he won’t feel so bad for his unfaithfulness.

    Separation may be necessary for safety sake. Its not wise to raise children in a narcissistic environment.

    Also as I said before, the marriage books, even the Christian ones, are not adequate to address the narcissist in a marriage. This is a selfish, self centered person that may not ever be cured. Telling him to repent or get right with God will only make him sneer and laugh at you.

    • Lydia,

      I agree with almost every thing you wrote. I think where I have lately changed my opinion on “biblical grounds for divorce” is in this case. I don’t have room to write my reasons here, but I think I’ll write a post about it. When Jesus was discussing divorce, and when the Lord said “I hate divorce” he was talking, in both instances, to abusers themselves. Men who, if they divorced their wives, would leave them destitute. God himself divorced his Bride.

      Also, one of God’s major soap boxes, if you will, was the lack of defense for the oppressed and the lack of justice for the wicked who took advantage of the righteous. Abusers are, by definitions, not Christians.

      The narcissistic/abuser in the Bible is called a fool or scoffer. The Bible warns us to “put the fool out and the abuse will cease.”

      I am believing more and more, that the Lord would NEVER advise a woman to stay in an abusive situation–physical or emotional.

      Just my thoughts on this late night…more to come.

  8. I have known Preachers to recommend divorce, but it was only in clear cases of unfaithfulness. The mate was not expected to stay married in such conditions. As for divorce in other causes, preachers are reluctant to encourage it, However, we have members of the church who divorced because of extreme mental cruelty (That was before it was called narcissism) and they never remarried because they did not think it would be scriptural to marry again. And it is sad that so many older women who teach younger women actually encourage them to stay in dangerous marriage situations. It is hard, however, as a preacher’s wife myself, to always know who is telling the truth. Sometimes a man or woman will accuse their mate of being controlling or cruel, and it won’t be true at all; they just want to get out of the marriage. Other times, people don’t express the danger they are in strongly enough, and it turns out they were right about needing to end the relationship. That might be one reason the preachers aren’t likely to recommend a divorce.

    • It’s so true how confusing this whole thing can be. I know a family now, (known them for years) whose wife left the husband. From the beginning she demanded they have nothing to do with his family. (Victims don’t demand, narcissists do.) He complied. Long story and lots in between, she ended up leaving him. She is publicly claiming he was an abusive narcissist. She has all the traits. She always got her way. He was always the compliant, peace-making one. He still is. She comes out the victim and I can see right through it.

  9. Christ spoke of divorce in Matthew 19, In the New Testament, specific care was given to show under what condition a divorce was permissible and although no one HAS to divorce, certain conditions can cause divorce. However, I think ministers are afraid of the condemnation upon themselves if they recommend divorce. These days, my husband has even been reluctant to perform marriages because of the mixed up back grounds of the candidates, third and fourth marriage, children by other relationships, and just such an unclear situation that makes it harder these days to determine if the couple are actually free to marry!

  10. I agree with you Kelly. Christ, the husband of the Bride, the church, would never want people to remain in abusive marriages. I also have a few signals I can relate to you regarding how to spot a narcissist before marriage:

    – Having quarrels with members of the future mate’s family, on purpose, I mean, staged and design to create a conflict. That way, the future wife is tested to see whose side she takes.

    -Expecting the wife will be rich one day and he can retire early and live off her income.

    -sabataging any attempt the future wife makes to improve herself–making fun of her hairstyle, her makeup, her clothes, the way she speaks.

    -Disliking her special brand of humor. Eventually he will completely destroy her humor.

    -Being late for appointments, dinners, or just not showing up to events related to the couple.

    -Starting projects but never finishing them.

    -Wanting to turn her personality inside out and conform her to his own requirements, like he was her creator.

    -Not liking to dress up and in fact, despising any kind of formality,

    –some narcissists don’t like the dining room chairs and will go get something really bizarre to sit on, such as a tall stool or a child’s chair, or pull up a living room chair and look utterly out of place.
    – Others have a problem with furniture or curtains or dishes, etc. in using them properly. In getting a drink, they will bypass the normal drinking glasses and go for some strange vessel like a saucepan, to drink water from. I’ve also seen them move the furniture instead of moving themselves to a better place in which to converse. Several ladies have related to us stories of this strange behavior. It apparently comes from the “it’s all about me” attitude.

    – there are other things that ladies married to such men have said are unusual. Some of them have done everything they can to eliminate their wive’s art supplies or craft supplies, their garden efforts, etc. because they say it takes up too much space or time. But this is only because it takes their attention away from the narc.

    It all sounds so bizarre, I know. Another narcissist habit is taking over everything. Eventually there is no room for the wife because he has designated so much of the house to himself and his own needs. He even may move his office to the dining room or living room. They tend to deliberately create chaos in the home, whether it be physically by the strange way they treat the furniture or just being overly messy, or by creating conflict with people in the home. Narcissism is a dirty business and when women get free of the person who perpetrates it, they say they feel like they are coming alive again, getting their lives back, and recovering from brain trauma.

  11. I think after seeing what we have seen, that being married to a narcissist must be like being slowly squashed to death. One woman we know said she ended up in the hospital because she had trouble breathing, in a kind of panic attack. Another lady said she suddenly got so many illnesses and couldn’t figure out why she was always nauseas. Apparently one symptom of narcissist abuse is nausea!

    Since the victims are usually very sincere women who want to please the Lord, they will make desperate attempts to become better wives, finding books that tell them just to be more submissive, etc., and it just puts them further into being grinded down by the perpetrator.

    I learned also that when the victim is happy and smiling, at ease and normal, the perpetrator will be angry and unhappy, resentful that she is feeling normal. He will do whatever he can, say whatever he can to wipe that smile off her face, and after he has her crying, will whistle or smile, because now, he is back into controlling his victim.

    • It does all sound abnormal, because it is. But wow, some of the the signs you shared are new to me. Thank you. It’s a horrible way of life, for the woman or man that has to deal with it…that much I know. And there are varying degrees, I think. But foundationally, it’s about the same thing: control.

  12. In trying to find the source of narcissism in our culture, we thought it had begun in the working world. Businesses were having an awful time with it, as people were so competitive in the office situation.

    • I don’t think it’s possible to find the source. How do you explain a family full of normal children, raised by the same parents the same way, with one who is narcissistic? I’ve seen that and there’s is no explanation.

  13. What I meant was, the problem of narcissism was first prominent in America about a decade or more ago, in the work place.

    The home was affected by it later.

    Narcissists were dealt with prior to this by the old fashioned ways where a selfish person was just not tolerated, and was taken to task by society in general. People with those selfish tendencies and practices were not given a second invitation to social things, were not welcome in stores and the market (back in the day when the proprietors had a right to refuse service to anyone that potentially would harm their ability to do business) and they were generally shunned, given demerits in school, and in the home, received strong lectures about their sneaky ways.

    As people worked in groups in the corporate world, the narcissism was more prominent, and as people were getting away with it at work, it became also more prominent in the home. It has nothing to do with a lineage or a family or the grandparents, etc. It can strike anyone, because it is tolerated more today. That is what I meant. That it was seen more prominently in the workplace first, in schools, and eventually in the home.

    It actually doesn’t matter where it became more practiced, as it really needs to be dealt with in the home. Sadly, we have children that even from homeschool families must work with these people in business, and it can affect them sometimes if they don’t know what it is. Men can bring it into the home, and so can women, if they are around people with that influence.

    On to some of the signs of narcissim: they tend to make bad memories for others in the home, for example, every family celebration such as birthdays, and even Thanksgiving, has a sour note to it, brought on by the narc. and also they tend to make their targets have bad memories over their own posessions and clothes, or locations on a vacation, just by the bad scenes and things they did. A person will want to get rid of things because of the memories and the association. That’s one sign of narcissist abuse.

  14. The way I found out about it in the workplace, was, there were a number of articles in some business magazines about it about 10 years ago. It was about dealing with people who were running your live or watching every move you made, trying to eliminate you from the job, or run you off, etc. I used to think it was only a result of the modern corporate and financial system where people had to work together in groups, causing a pecking order. But later it was becoming obvious the same tactics were being used in the home. That is why I said its “origins” were in business, but of course, as Christians we know there is nothing new under the sun, and anything as evil and selfish as narcissism has its roots in Satan and unbelief.

  15. I also think Christians are looking for a more Biblical title to describe narcissism and thats why they don’t use the word. I have some links to some interesting videos that talk about living with a narcissist, both men and women, and would gladly send them if you will contact me.As they aren’t all Christian, I don’t want to publish them on my own blog or yours. However, they have some very good things in them and it is interesting that even though these are just normal citizens and not doctors or therapists, they all say the same thing show the same patterns in narcissism. It is only just now that the medical establishment is picking up on narcissism and using the ordinary citizen’s observations, books, videos, etc. I’ve only seen on article about narcissism in a Christian paper, and it was woefully lacking in information.

  16. Karen says:

    After 20 years of marriage, 20 years of manipulation, lying, etc…, and 10 years of counseling within the church, where they have the best intentions, but do not “get it”, I am done playing the game. I have utterly lost hope in ever having a godly marriage with this man. He has convinced me beyond a doubt that he has never loved me, never even intended to live out his marital vows, admittedly (by him) has no compassion for me nor anyone else, has repeatedly faked repentence, etc….

    After mistakenly trying to please God by focusing on healing my marriage, I made it an idol. Seeing that now, I am desiring/seeking to draw nearer to God again, to find and follow His will in all this; to put Him above all else where He so truly belongs. But, all I hear from new pastoral counselors is that I must let them try to hold my husband accountable; that I must keep hoping,…. That has been the goal of all the past counselors. That is what I hoped and prayed for for years. That is what, after 20 years of hoping and praying, I have lost all hope for. But, they expect me to drum up hope and to continue in this abuse, because they don’t understand.

    I pray my husband would be saved before he dies, but he has clearly never been truly interested, except to the extent that men would believe him to be a Christian. It seems the church can not comprehend why I would not still have hope…. My heart is broken and where can I find support in the church?

    • Karen,

      My heart is breaking for you. I can’t think of ANYTHING worse than to come to the conclusion that you must give up on change in someone you love and have invested your life in. And yet, with this particular trait (disorder? I don’t know exactly what to call it) I’ve heard over and over that they simply don’t change. It is a death of the most grievous proportions, especially when you have spent so many years holding out for hope. I go the bed this evening praying for you, and for so many others. That the Lord would guide you and give you His peace and comfort as you try to make sense of your life.

    • Lori says:

      I am sorry for what you’re going through. There are also a lot of facebook groups for emotional support. But if you want something more anonymous, I think you’ll find a lot of support w/ the people who frequent Leslie Vernick’s blog (in the comments section). LeslieVernick(dot)com/blog
      Leslie Vernick (a counselor and a Christian) also has written several books, and perhaps “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” would be useful to you.

  17. Julie Ives says:

    Ugh… I know it all too well. Every bit of it. It is hard not to be hopeless. Thank you for addressing this issue. It is very hard not to be alone in tbis. Most people don’t get it at all because it sounds so crazy. Because he is so nice…you must not be… etc. Love and prayer for you all. Especially as you address this issue so many women face.

  18. Ashley says:

    Just found this series and need to read all the wisdom you shared. Unfortunately, the narcissist in my life isn’t a spouse (my husband has been the best blessing & support through my struggles), but my own mother and older sister. Dealing with a narcissist on any level is very damaging, especially for children growing up in that environment. Now at 40 yrs old, I’m still working on healing and trying to navigate the relationship in a biblical way that still honors my parents (my dad is her enabler) but also provides a boundary to protect my own mental & spiritual health.

  19. Ashley,

    I do not envy your position. I have several in my family, thus the ability to speak to the situation. It is, by far, the most confusing and difficult of personality types to deal with. I wish you much wisdom and courage.

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