Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings, and he was of the house of Caleb. 1 Samuel 25:
I suppose everyone has moments where they are unreasonable. I know I do. But most people come around once they get a nap, a snack, or a good talking to. But for others, being unreasonable is a tool which they use to upend other’s sense of reality. The narcissist is the inventor of the impossible choice, I think, and Nabal is a perfect example.
The title of this post came to me soon after I divorced my ex. I thought I might write a book about living with a narcissist and I thought Nabal, the first husband of Abigail in the first book of Samuel. In all honesty, the title made me laugh so appropriate it seemed at the time and still does. Abigail was presented with just such a scenario that only the unreasonable narcissist can cook up. She was between a rock and a hard place. The only solutions that presented themselves were ones that put herself in danger.
The narcissist occasionally appears to lack a self-protective mode. They take a stand which can only result in danger for everyone, even themselves. In the case of Nabal, he took on King David and his men in one of the more stupid encounters in the Bible.
But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them. 1 Sam 25:4
For a little clarity, David had just cleared the area of enemies, protecting Nabal from danger to his life and holdings. Nabal’s response is hardly gratitude when David’s men request a meal which is not an unreasonable request. People have asked me how I know Nabal was narcissistic. Quite simple, really. The basic assumption of the narcissist is that everyone around them is cheating them. Nabal can’t see what has been given to him in the form of protection. He viewed the request (king’s order) for food as a demand that severely infringed on what was his.
You see, the narcissist keeps a very careful accounting of what is his or hers. Even if he or she doesn’t want it, you cannot have it. Like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, it is theirs, their own, their precious. Or maybe more like Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit. He had counted every last coin of the vast treasure in the mountain.
Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. 1 Sam 25:5
I believe we overlook what an act of courage this was on the part of Abigail. This is the rock and the hard place I was talking about with the unreasonable narcissist. Nabal wasn’t stupid enough to misunderstand the situation. Like most wealthy people, he was probably quite shrewd. But he did set up a situation in which Abigail has to act in a way that contradicts his strict orders, never mind that it saves his life. He now has ammunition against Abigail with which he can torment her later. She can argue all she wants that she was saving his life and the lives of everyone that lived on their land. All he has to do is point out that she disobeyed direct orders.
It is quite the mind game really. I can’t even list all the times when my ex gave me unreasonable or even simply crazy orders. My inability or at times, my unwillingness to go against my conscience or my simple common sense was used against me as being unwilling to follow his lead. Sometimes he made it sound as if I was undermining our life together as when he tried to get me to quit teaching. He wanted me to work in a factory instead, a grueling job which made less money and took more hours.
But the result of the unreasonable stances that a narcissist often takes puts his victim in the position of having to mediate between them and the world.
And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground. 1 Sam 25:6
The job of the narcissist’s victim is to apologize to others for their (the narcissist’s) actions. I can’t tell you how many people I apologized to for the behavior of my ex, particularly in my family. I provided justifications and made remediation for relationships that he endangered, people he insulted, or just because of mean-spirited behavior. Except, of course, for the people he wanted to impress. It seems to me that every narcissist has a short list of people he or she wants to make a show for.
And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. But it came to pass in the morning when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone 1 Sam 25: 36-37
The Achille’s heel of the narcissist is shame. When Nabal is told that David had barely been prevented from killing him, he shuts down. His pride is deflated and he sinks into a severe depression. Not from repentance. If he had repented, he would have gone straight to David and asked forgiveness. Nabal had been exposed and that proved unbearable to him. Ten days later, the Lord puts him out of his and everyone else’s misery.
The story ends with Abigail marrying David. Most people seem to treat this as a happy ending. I suppose it certainly was a rescue from uncertain circumstances. While I believe that David had a special relationship with the Lord, I am not particularly impressed with his husbanding skills. He practiced a polygamy that harmed his children severely. However, Abigail got to live in the palace and I imagine she was grateful for the new life apart from Nabal.
The unreasonable behavior, in the end, harms the narcissist more than anyone else. I like to think that is the moral of this little Bible story. After all, God certainly honored Abigail’s courage in the face of systematic abuse. And it reminds me when I am tempted to be unreasonable to look at the motivation of my heart. Am I standing up for something important or am I just committed to having my own way?