Five Reasons Why Women Stay with Narcissists

stay

I have often gotten asked why did I stay if my ex-husband was so terrible.  The question always sends a pang of anguish through my heart, mostly because I wish I hadn’t. But looking back, the answer to that question is very complicated. Abused women stay for a number of very difficult reasons, ones that are not immediately obvious. It took a good deal of prayer and spiritual and emotional growth to get to the point where I could see clearly enough to leave.

Part of the reason I write about this topic is that I get a steady stream of emails from women struggling with this very dilemma. To leave can seem impossible, dangerous even. But to stay feels like a yoke made of lead. I finally made the decision to leave when I realized that to stay would cost me my life. That sounds dramatic, but to live wishing you are dead is not living. Death felt preferable to living with him.

So here are the reasons why I stayed. I find that most women who contact me stay for the same reasons. My experiences are not unique, unfortunately.

Reason to stay #1:

He begged me to stay. Narcissists can be so convincing. My ex would cry and beg. He even went to counseling for a brief time. I fled a total of four times. And for three of those, he came after me, wooing me with the entire force of his very charismatic personality. He was intellectually brilliant andstay spent hours trying to argue his way back into a relationship. The first couple of times he charmed his way into my good graces with promises to change. Little did I know that he would only be reformed for a couple months until his behaviors started slipping into the old ways.

Turns out that narcissists often ‘woo’ their victims into staying. If they were horrible all the time, no woman would even be attracted. But they know what to say and how to make their victim feel as if they are the center of their world. The over-romancing and fancy phrases are really just to get their hooks deeper into their victims. Just enough good times will often keep a woman in a cycle of waiting for more.

Reason to stay #2:

I felt shamed. The church doesn’t offer much support to women who want to leave their husbands. Unless physical abuse is present, most pastors that I have turned to counseled me to stay. One offered me the excuse that he knew some women whose husbands were incredibly wretched but that it was their duty to stay. The message I received over and over was that the institution of marriage was more important than my life, sanity, or the emotional well-being of my children.

Townsend and Cloud, the authors of Boundaries and Changes that Heal, gave me the courage to leave with their understanding of emotional abuse. I often find myself counseling women to leave their churches and find one that will truly support them. IF a narcissist has the chance, he will often charm the pastor or the other members of the church into thinking he is the perfect husband and father.

Reason to stay #3:

I was alone. The narcissist isolates his victim.  Many women I know find themselves very alone in their quest to leave. I discovered after I had left that staymy ex would threaten my friends and our neighbors into leaving me alone. I remember one phone call where an acquaintance recounted all of the horrible things my ex had said about me. She said that she stayed away because it was clearly an unhealthy situation.

My ex took isolation to the point of moving us to a cabin in the Kentucky wilderness, ten miles away from a town of 2000 and forty from the nearest town of 15,000. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. I still managed to make friends here and there, but none of them stayed for long.

Reason to stay #4:

I was terrified. Narcissists make terrible threats. He had me convinced that he had things on me that would put me in jail. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but he had fourteen years to develop a terror in me of what he could do. I finally felt that even being wrongly imprisoned for something would be preferable to the severe degradation that he put me through.

All my ex really cared about was having total control over me and our daughters. He would stop at nothing to achieve it. I even found him trying to use brainwashing techniques on occasion. Gaslighting was a regular occurrence. I can say without a doubt that the reason I made it out as intact as I did is because of my relationship with God.

Reason to stay #5:

I wasn’t sure I could support myself and my daughters. Turns out I could. But I never had access to our money, even the money I earned. After I left, I discovered that he had never paid bills that were in my name. I had to clear my credit which he had tried to ruin without my knowledge.

However, my parents and God’s provision stood us in good stead. I always had a decent job and eventually, I remarried a man who was very generous to me and my daughters. All in all, despite the fact that food stamps came to our aid on occasion, my girls have had everything they needed.

I often get emails from women in very similar situations to mine. I don’t quite know what to tell them except to develop a real sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I would not have had the courage or the help if I had not been so attuned to what He was saying to me.

I do know, however, that God is close to the widow and the orphan. A narcissist is dead inside and so I counted myself a widow. The Lord led me out to freedom and a life that has had its ups and downs, but that is a real life. I will never forget the words my counselor spoke to me years later. She told me that if I never did anything as courageous again as leaving a narcissistic abuser, it was enough. I escaped from a destroyer and saved my children in the process.

So please. Don’t ask me why I stayed so long. Ask me how on earth did I escape.

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9 Replies to “Five Reasons Why Women Stay with Narcissists”

  1. Oh Alice! Thank you for sharing this. One of my best friends experienced this. It is such an important topic!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I am so sorry you had to go through all that, but I am so thankful you got out and are willing to share what you went through and hope it helps others.

  3. Thank you for sharing your heart. I hope that it helps and encourages women to break through relationship bondage

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. These reasons are spot on and it is a really difficult decision to make. Another reason I would add is the doubt that you are accurately characterizing your spouse. Then there is guilt for being judgemental or unforgiving. I share a part of your story in that my current, non-believer husband is also wanting to move to a very rural, unpopulated area of New Mexico. With complete control of the finances and the rules which I have to abide by, a recent crisis (my mom had a heart attack) empowered me to tell him that I don’t want to move there and I want to go back to school. This is not going well, at his direction we have met with a pastor and now a counselor because this has created a huge obstacle in his plans. I’m operating by the passage that says to let him go. But he is definutely not letting go. Im praying without ceasing but in the midst of a major battle. Your story gives me pause to consider.

  5. Jennifer @ Minding the Kings says: Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, for shedding light on a topic many congregations prefer to sweep under the rug, and for being a voice and encouragement for women who are going through similar situations. My cousin was with a man for years who emotionally and physically abused her. I could never figure out why she wouldn’t leave. One time she finally told me that, she didn’t think she could make it on her own, and that nobody else would ever want her. So heartbreaking.

  6. Good article, Alice, both for the women who are married to narcissists and to those on the outside looking in on these relationships. I think you’ve illustrated well the difficulties in leaving a co-dependent marriage. And yes, I’ve seen so many times how the church counsels a woman to stay in an emotionally abusive marriage because she’s “required to Biblically.” Thankfully, there are some theologically sound rebuttals I’ve heard. One of which comes from Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage.

    Thank you for all you do in helping broken women see the light, Alice! <3

  7. Alice, I am so familiar with the threats and feelings you described. I think when someone hasn’t experienced this, they can’t understand the depth of the feelings of entrapment that someone feels. I am thankful to the Lord that you are free now and can speak out to help other people who are trapped. I use the word ‘people’ and not just women, because sometimes the abuse is reversed in relationships.

  8. Oh I can do relate to this and I thank you so much for sharing!! This is so incredibly important and will help so many!!

  9. Persis Moodley says: Reply

    Hi Alice. I write from Durban, South Africa. I am a Christian Indian woman who is married to Narcissist for ten years now. I found your article on Pinterest and despite dreading to read it, I knew it was God leading me to. I know the struggle of every woman and mother that has attempted to leave an abusive relationship several times, and the subsequent depression and anxiety that stems from being in such a marriage. I also know that sinking feeling when the church continuously tells you to stay in the marriage and submit to your husband no matter what. I am also isolated from friends and family (who are exhausted of me “crying wolf”); not permitted to work or earn an income; and yes, I do wish I could die and not have to endure another day of criticism and mockery. But I still believe that somehow God will make a way in the desert for my son and I – and my two step-kids – so that we will not have to define our lives by the Narcissistic head of our home. Please keep me in prayer and keep posting more articles on how you managed to escape. God bless you

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