Staying in a relationship with a narcissist takes a lot of commitment. After all, the benefits of the relationship are fleeting at best, while the daily slog of being someone’s personal slave is exhausting. I have opened up in this blog because I feel led by the Lord to tell my story as a way of owning it. And one of the most difficult things about admitting to my past is that I am generally perceived as a competent, even gifted, woman. People ask, without meaning to hurt me, “How did you get trapped in such a circumstance?” The truth is that narcissists often target intelligent, strong women. Where’s the challenge, otherwise?
But the self-deception necessary in order to stay runs deep. And narcissists can be charming and seductive. No one would stay at all if there weren’t some benefits. But as time passes and life gradually loses all color, victims have to develop specific strategies in order to stay. So we set up certain lies in place to support a structure already built on lies. I should have left before I did. I should have taken a clue from the fact that the voice in my head had a mantra of “I wish I was dead.” And I did. I wished it for years until I realized that life could be much better.
He/she is just immature. Everyone in the family participates in this lie. “He will grow up. He is just young,” his parents, my parents, our friends and I would assert. The benefit to this lie is that it is true. After all, a narcissist is stuck at the emotional age of a two year old. The lie is in the belief that time will cure narcissism. Perhaps for a few? After all, I don’t claim to know all narcissists. But I do know that narcissists do not seem to achieve the normal maturational milestones that most humans do. If you are waiting around for your narcissist to grow up, you will waste decades on that futile hope.
I can handle the abuse. The wrongheadedness of this lie should be self-evident. We were never meant to handle abuse. We were meant for a life lived in love and fruitfulness. And no one can handle abuse indefinitely. It will catch up with you. Your body will start to give out. Your heart will forget joy. Your mind will live in a state of fog in order to keep you from seeing what is there. I was sick for years. Immediately after I left, my health was restored. So now, I proudly assert, “I can’t handle abuse. I love myself too much to expose myself to it.”
Kids are resilient. No, they are not. If they were, psychologists would go out of business. Childhood trauma surfaces later and is devastating. Children do not have the self-awareness or power to assert their pain and fear in abusive circumstances. Instead they learn that they are powerless, that making mommy or daddy happy is their job, and that they are not worthy of love. Those are formulas for a miserable adulthood, and yet, keeping them in that situation made me a party to it. If nothing else, do not fool yourself that somehow you can shield them from the effects of your partner’s narcissism. No one else has and you can’t either.
I can love and pray him/her out of it. I believe in prayer. Check out my blog. I have had amazing answers to prayer. But God doesn’t make anyone do anything. This is free will. You can pray for decades for a person, but ultimately, the decision to change is theirs alone. I have come to believe that praying obsessively for someone to change amounts to little more than a form of idolatry. God changed me and freed me from narcissistic abuse, but only because I invited Him too. The fact that I used to pray that God would make me the kind of wife John needed is an indication of how twisted my reasoning had become. I worked, kept the house clean, and handled all the care for the children. What he did all day locked in his little office, God only knows. Narcissists do not feel your love and do not recognize your sacrifices. They are merciless gods and do not deserve your worship.
His/her behavior is somehow my fault. One day I was having my habitual prayer time. I spent a lot of time practicing forgiveness and would sit at the feet of Jesus letting Him love me as a way to experience the love I had missed for fourteen years. One day I found myself crying and saying to the Lord , “You saw what he did! You saw what he did to me!” The Lord’s presence filled the room and He said, “In no way do I hold you responsible for any of John’s actions.” Until that moment, I did not realize how deeply I had taken responsibility for his actions. The only actions for which any of us are responsible are our own.
If you recognize these lies you tell yourself in order to keep yourself going, it might be time to reconsider some things. Truth can be so painful. I have been there, on my own with four little girls, two thousand miles from my family. But God led me out of the narcissistic wilderness, and I am so grateful. I wake up, and I no longer wonder if my husband is going to have a good day or a bad day. I swept up all the eggshells from the floor and can say what I mean without fearing a violent response. I live a normal life, and so do my daughters. I even plan for the future, knowing that I have one. So I guess the one thing I learned is that the Red Sea parts for us all, if God is the one leading us out.