The most commonly read posts on this entire blog in the last seven years have been those that addressed toxic relationships with malignant narcissists. A friend has chosen for the first time to share her story anonymously. The account speaks for itself, and her purpose in sharing it was clearly stated to me. “If it saves even one woman from the hell I went through, it’s worth it.”
Everyone reading this needs to understand this point. While all of these abusive people are dangerous, the most effectively destructive ones are those who claim to be Christians, who use their charm and talent for “Jesus”, and who operate under cover of their religious claims and outreach. When those they harm speak out, they have the advantage of a public image at complete odds with who they really are. Their targets are then twice victimized, because those who should stand with them stead join the perpetrator in scapegoating the one in pain. If you have ever lived this, it’s worthy of a horror movie.
Here is her story. I hope it helps someone. My thanks to the lovely Christian woman who has shared this.
I watched him from the back of the sanctuary. I listened to his well-rehearsed and flawlessly executed presentation, citing Bible verses and speaking of his relationship to God. He was a self-proclaimed evangelist. By the end of the service, he had us all eating out of his hand. But at the end of the event, he singled me out. He was charming, complimentary and attentive. I was smitten.
We communicated daily. He wooed me in a way that was straight out of a romance novel – flowers, love letters, snippets of music to soften my heart, long telephone calls at midnight, endearing pet names, always telling me what a remarkable woman of God I was, and how blessed he was to have found me.
We married 6 months later, a year after we met. I thought I had found heaven on earth, a man who loved God and loved me and my child. It was only a matter of time before I began to realize what hell on earth can be like, and that I would live the next 15 years of my life in a black hole, a hole that would suck the life and breath from me, that would skew my sense of personhood, that would deny me the opportunity to be true to myself in order to be true to my spouse.
During our engagement, he was fired from his job. He explained that he had been lied about, and sabotaged, and that was the real reason for termination. It never occurred to me that he was lying.
A few months after our marriage, he was hired at a new job. Less than a year later, he was fired. He was angry that they just didn’t see that he was the right man for that job. It never occurred to me that he was lying…again.
Things became difficult at home. It became obvious that everything about our marriage was about him. We ate when he wanted, and what he preferred. We did, for the most part, what he wanted to do, socialized with those with whom he wanted to be, and did what was most pleasing to him in all areas of our life.
He expected to be praised for every small achievement, and was in constant need of being “stroked” and admired. I often felt he wanted cheerleaders, not a spouse or friends. Every business opportunity he pursued was ultimately about self-promotion, and a desire to be viewed as someone incredibly special. He had delusions of grandeur – “this project is going to be the big one….I can feel it.” It never was.
He was preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and the “ideal” love. I began to see how he selfishly took advantage of others to his own ends –family, friends, acquaintances, even strangers were targeted as “aides” in his acquiring of money, fame, and success, most times under the guise of doing something “for God.” Once they had served their usefulness, they were left behind. I would often challenge him about this, as it made me horrifically uncomfortable and uneasy. His response was that I had no business acumen, and to leave these matters to him.
I had learned, early on in the relationship, as a good and godly wife, to “submit” to him, but as time went on, I began to challenge him on his behaviors which, to my way of thinking, were more than just impulsive and immature, but, often times, outright unethical, immoral and ungodly. With every challenge came retaliation in the form of silence. Days of silence, of withholding affection, withholding even a simple “good morning” or “good night.” I learned, quickly, that if peace was going to reign in our marriage, it would be I who would have to apologize, and make it right. In the entirety of our marriage, I can count on one hand the times that he ever said, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong, please forgive me.”
After several failed attempts at being self-employed at various projects that interested him, he took a job with a highly reputable, nationally known company. A few years later, he came home and announced that he had quit his job to pursue another project which had the potential to make us “rich and famous.” It never occurred to me he was lying about quitting. As I would find out, only two days before our divorce, he was fired with serious allegations of illegal activity which could have been prosecuted and included mandatory jail time. The company, for its own name’s sake, and for the sake of me and my child, chose to terminate with no severance pay, loss of medical and dental, and a promise that they would clean up his mess, and not prosecute. For the last six years of our lives together, I became the sole support of the family while he “chased the dream.”
You may wonder how any woman can be so trusting, so naïve, or just plain stupid. I wonder it myself. I am a well-educated, quite intelligent, professional woman. But as a Christian, my commitment to do what was right, to be faithful and supportive, overrode my own intuition, and I kept ignoring all the warning signs. A narcissist is exceedingly charming, and masterful at developing an environment that does not allow for questioning or challenging him. Challenges are viewed as criticism, and in a narcissist’s mind, all criticism is viewed as being against the narcissist. There is no gray area for a narcissist – if you are not for him, you are against him. If you are against him, he will make your life miserable. A narcissist excels at grooming his spouse to live according to his wishes, his desires, his needs. To not comply is reckoned as a lack of love for him. What spouse wants to be accused of not loving her mate?
In the last 15 months of our marriage, I became critically ill. I was also grieving the death of a very dear friend and colleague. At the same time, my spouse was engaged in a project that truly did have the potential to be all he had hoped for. He hired a woman to come into the project, against my wishes. Every red flag in me went up, but he assured me it was a purely professional relationship. But I saw the signs. I confronted him. He denied it, stating I was being paranoid and jealous.
Two months later, on Christmas night, I would discover that they had been involved with one another for well over 6 months. When confronted with the affair, I was given a classic retort, “This is what you get for not being the kind of wife I needed.” Please note, there was no, “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t mean for it to happen.” No, it was MY fault that he had cheated.
A narcissist lacks empathy – he’s never sorry for what he’s done to harm others, and most times cannot even see the harm, damage and pain he has left in his wake. His awareness of pain is only of the pain he has incurred, and his belief is that his pain is at the hands of someone else, never as a result of his own faulty decisions and ungodly choices. To this day, if given an opportunity, my ex-spouse will tell people that it was I who ruined his reputation and destroyed his business opportunities, and it was I who “held him back” all these years from being a successful businessman. Narcissists were often, as children, excused or rescued. They seldom were allowed to suffer the consequences of their decisions and, subsequently, they form an entitlement mentality, or a victim mentality, whichever is useful for any given circumstance. My ex’s parents have always been there to “bail him out” of any difficulty he had, going so far as to pay for his divorce attorney so that he could be “happy again.”
As a very public Christian figure, he refused to see that cheating on his wife and walking away from his family would have serious repercussions to his testimony and reputation. He believed he should have been able to walk away because, after all, God also wanted him to be happy.
He left us on New Year’s Day. He never looked back. He never apologized. He never said good bye. It was as if we never existed. He simply took a huge eraser to me, and put her in my place, without skipping a beat. I would find out after we were married that he did this exact same thing to his first wife – with me. She did NOT want the divorce as he had told me, but after he met me, he went home and told her he no longer wished to be married to her. He had left her with no money. He did the same to me. He walked away from her without looking back. He did the same to me. Narcissists have patterns, and when they are unmasked, and finally are seen for who they are, they run from their current situation into a new one as quickly as possible. Narcissists cannot live without their mask. Expose a narcissist at your own peril – their ability to retaliate is phenomenal.
But, in the immortal words of the late and great Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story.
He has been gone for a year now. It’s been one of the most painful times of my life and horrifically confusing and damaging to my child. My health is still fragile, and I am caring for a special needs child while maintaining my career in order to support us both. The divorce was brutal and unnecessarily litigious.
But God is good, and He is faithful to those who walk in righteousness. He has been a Provider, far better than my ex ever was, and He has done so in phenomenal ways. The graciousness of family, church family, friends, other churches, colleagues, and many of my ex’s colleagues has provided us with enough cash gifts to pay off my mortgage, all my medical bills, and the divorce settlement owed to my ex because I kept the house. I have a new furnace and air conditioner because of the kindness of the owner of a heating and cooling company who heard our story, and extended great grace to us, giving us the furnace at dealer’s cost, an air conditioner for free, and installation of both for free. Friends who knew I could only eat organic grass-fed beef brought us a large bag full of one-pound packages. We received gift cards to restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores.
But more than any other gift we’ve received, all of which have been incredible, is the gift of finding myself again. Living with a narcissist is like living in a black hole – it sucks the very life out of you. You give, and give, and give, and receive little to nothing in return, because even when something is given back to you, it’s because it serves a purpose to the narcissist.
I am opposed to divorce, even in instances of infidelity. I believe God’s grace, love and the power of the Holy Spirit can redeem anything. When I discovered the affair, I forgave him and asked him to stay to work on our marriage. I would have done whatever it took to save my family. He did not want to do so. He could not afford to do so – I now saw him for who he truly was, and it could never be the same as it was, for either of us. He had already made plans with many new dreams with his paramour (yes, she was married and left a 23 year marriage for him).
I see now that God has protected me from a life that would have eventually destroyed me physically, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually. God may hate divorce, but I believe He hates even more the destruction of a life He designed to love and serve Him, and to be a glory to Him. Living with a narcissist destroys who you are – you are forced to be something “other than” who God made you as a matter of survival.
God never intended that we simply survive. He came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. We were intended to thrive in the light of His love and grace, not to be a withering and dying flower living in the shadow of a spouse who lives only for himself.
If you “see yourself” in this story, I encourage you to seek counseling. Don’t live in the shadows. The journey back into the sunlight will undoubtedly be painful in many ways, and certainly not the easiest journey you have made, but it can be quite beautiful once you finally arrive.