I receive emails almost daily from victims of narcissistic abuse. Each of these victims sounds just like me twenty years ago. My heart aches for each of them because I know what they have ahead of them: the fight of their lives. Time and time again, the victims question themselves, afraid to face the brutal truth. How can it be true that the person you married does not love you and even more, has become your worst enemy?
I remember Danny Silk once saying at a conference that if your loved ones don’t know you love them, you don’t. That quote struck me hard. He was talking, of course, about the act of loving. If the people around you do not experience you loving them, then you are not actively loving them. But there is a darker caveat to this that I wish all victims of narcissists knew. If someone you love acts as an enemy, they are.
Before I list out what I would like to give this caveat for some of my readers who have not experienced this personal tragedy. I am not pro-divorce. But I am pro-person which means that I believe that people are more important than institutions like marriage. Like Jesus’ enemies who condemned Him for healing on the Sabbath, people can get very focused on rules and ignore the victims. Living a life free of fear and abuse trumps the commitments of marriage in my view.
So here is what I would like to say:
I can’t tell you whether to divorce or not. No one can.
But I can tell you that if you are afraid, you probably have good reason to be. Choosing to divorce my first husband was a journey for me. I had to face the specter of parental disapproval and the sure knowledge that I would have to provide for my children alone. And divorcing a narcissist feels really dangerous. They threaten and play hardball. They generally pull out all the stops in order to win. My ex even brought my prayer diary to court to try to prove that I was the unstable one.
That said, my chief regret is not leaving sooner.
I would have saved myself and my children a lot of grief if I had stopped denying the depths of the problem. My children have had to really face a lot of unnecessary trauma because I stayed when I should have left. And so have I. We often lie to ourselves about how much damage we can sustain. We think we can ‘take it’ but, my friends, you were made for better things than being someone else’s punching bag, whether physical, emotional, or verbal.
Your abuser doesn’t have all the power.
It just feels that way. Your abuser has been cultivating their power over you for quite a while. Narcissists lie, hide money, threaten, intimidate and seek to isolate their victims from their friends and family. One day the Lord showed me how He saw my ex compared to how I saw him. I saw him as a giant like Goliath but God saw him as a petty tyrant over a woman and four little girls. He showed me that I was much bigger in spirit. I was more than a conqueror and moreover, I had God on my side.
God fights for the abused and the exploited. Over and over, I have seen Him rescue people from vicious abusers when they call on Him. He makes a lot of promises about this and, believe me, I claimed every one.
It isn’t your fault. At least not the way you think it is.
I recently was attacked by a woman whose husband had treated her very badly. She said she had taken responsibility by admitting that she had made a mistake and accused me of not facing up to my responsibility. But the truth is that we victims fall into the trap of blaming ourselves all the time. God had to tell me very specifically that I was not responsible for any of my ex-husband’s wickedness. We marry in good faith, but narcissists do not.
My primary fault was in not admitting to myself and my family the severity of the abuse. But even that is tempered by the constant twisting of the truth by my ex. I could not always tell what was true or not. Eventually, I realized that he used confusion as a weapon. If I was unsure, then he had the upper hand. If you ask yourself whether or not you are the one with the problem, you aren’t. Abusers are always one hundred percent sure the problem is their victim, though they will appear remorseful just long enough to keep their victims from leaving.
Surround yourself with good counsel.
I could not have made it without the help of my pastors and family. If your church is not supportive, find another. Get professional counsel, both in the form of lawyers and counselors. Get your kids in therapy. Document everything your spouse says and does to you and your children. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t tell the judge everything that happened. If I had, I would have won much more quickly.
Find people that will hear you and believe you. I can’t emphasize this enough. The number one fear of a narcissist is exposure. Shine as much light as you can into the darkness in your marriage. I was terrified and you will be too. But facing the truth of what happened has been the single most freeing decision I have ever made for me and my children.
I have so many other things to say, but no matter how awful your circumstances, you are worth saving. You can be free of fear. If you fear for your life, find a shelter that will hide you. Ask for help from people you trust. You may not have any control over your abuser, but you have control over your decision to stay or leave, to live in fear or to fight for your life.
Listen carefully to what the Lord is saying to you, whether directly or through people who really get it. Not everyone really understands the depravity and degradation that narcissistic abuse involves. I can’t even write down the words my ex called me ‘as a joke’ because the internet filters would tag my post as offensive. Your life is precious in the eyes of the Lord. He will deliver you as He did me. And I know. Leaving a narcissist feels as possible as walking on water. But I am here to tell you that life after narcissism is worth the fight. So worth it.>
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