When I finally woke up to the insanity in which I lived for 30 years and decided to leave my abusive marriage to a minister, someone sent me an article on narcissism. Never hearing the word before, I certainly did not understand the meaning. The similarities between my husband and the article were eye-opening, to say the least. In fact, he could have been the poster child for narcissism.
Since finding healing and insight into my situation and since hearing stories from other women in similar situations, I have come to understand that the common thread in most abuse cases in Christian marriage is extreme narcissistic personality traits. Complicating matters further, legalistic views of scripture and the manipulation of biblical principles tend to make the abuser think they have certain “rights” granted to them by God, resulting in narcissistic spiritual abuse of the victim.
I heard from a therapist that had dealt with narcissism that almost no hope exists for treatment or repentance for the narcissist. And I just couldn’t accept that. After all, can’t God empower a person to overcome any sin, and doesn’t Jesus’ blood and grace reach even the most degenerate of sinners? My answer would absolutely be YES! But here’s the difficulty: Repentance and grace have to be recognized in the heart of the sinner. One has to evaluate the twisted condition of his heart and realize his utter nothingness to see the need for repentance and cry out for the grace of the Savior. Therein lies the problem. The narcissist’s extreme grandiose view of himself and the recognition of how sick he really is become two polar extremes.
In my case, my husband would be “sorry” for incidents, but not be sorry for who he was. Huge difference. Oh yes, he could cry profusely and proclaim his repentance. However, many times his words of repentance were followed with statements like, “But with everything I’ve been through…;” or ” but I’ve just suffered so much for Jesus. That’s why…;” or “But you did this…;” or “You just pushed me too far.” Many times, he compared his sufferings or his “astounding” spiritual sacrifice to Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah or Elijah or claimed that no one had been more committed to Jesus than he. In his mind, he was sincere. However, his sincerity seemingly created a feeling of entitlement.
The picture looks something like this: “I love Jesus so much. I’m so sincere. I can quote the Bible. My commitment to God is astounding. I sacrifice, therefore God owes me. Sincerity equals entitlement. But because I’m sincere, I don’t claim entitlement. And even though I claim that I am nothing, I’m really entitled because I claim I am nothing.”
And if you are thoroughly confused right now, try living in it for 30 years.
Narcissistic spiritual abuse is a mangled web of using God and the Bible to get what the abuser wants or to make the victim believe things that simply are not true. They use scripture to confirm what they are saying is legitimate. So blinded with his own pride and entitlement, my husband’s actions were either, in his mind, approved by God or had a spiritual basis. Because he could back his actions up by manipulating scripture, he believed his motives were of the best intentions.
It’s shocking how twisted it all became in my marriage, and how my abuser found excuses for appalling offenses. The memories make me cringe. Because he was “trying to raise him the ways of Jesus,” my ex-husband could physically, verbally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually abuse his son; or because he had “sacrificed so much” since he “could have had a harem” and was trying to be “true to his marriage vows,” he could manipulate his own mind into excusing the use of pornography at times. Believe it or not, he even tried to use scripture for that, too.
Realizing I could no longer live in that insanity, I escaped my abuser. The relationship was toxic and the poison was influencing me in ways I didn’t grasp until much later. I became a full-blown enabler and co-dependent in my misguided attempts to do what I thought God wanted. But God never wants us to submit to that kind of absurdity. After I left, I spent years trying to allow Jesus to make me spiritually and mentally healthy again. And in spite of all my flaws, I love Him more than ever because of His grace and mercy in my life.
A few years after receiving my healing from spiritual and narcissistic abuse, I read a verse that I had never realized before. Astoundingly, it was the definition of narcissism in a nutshell straight out of the mouth of God. Psalm 36:2: “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” That’s a scary thought. But it answers so many questions. And now, what the therapist said all those years ago makes sense. People can get to a point they are too proud to detect their sin. And if you can’t detect your sin, how can you truly repent?
That’s why narcissism is so dangerous. It blinds a person to his own faults, hindering true recognition of sin and subsequent repentance. I suppose narcissism is the reason the Bible says God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. Since Pharaoh’s heart was bent toward evil and his pride was so destructive, God hardened his heart. Pharoah’s narcissism ultimately caused his own demise. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul wrote about a man involved in an incestuous relationship: “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. ” My guess is that the man was sickeningly narcissistic, could not acknowledge his sin, and was in fact, excusing it.
Unfortunately, many times the church is an enabling factor in narcissistic abuse. For instance, the church in Corinth was actually proud of an incestuous man. Let that one sink in. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” (I Corinthians 5:1-2). If something as blatant as incest can be enabled in a church, how many times is the church perhaps inadvertently enabling a narcissistic abuser and his hidden agenda? Many more times than we can count, I am finding. Enamored with the narcissist’s charms, captivating demeanor, and the grandiose image he projects, the church blindly falls into his trap. Sadly, often paying a high price for this mistake, the church becomes one of the narcissist’s victims, and destruction lies in the aftermath.
However, hope and healing are always available. I want to make it clear that I sit in judgment of no one. God is the only one that knows the mind and heart of a man. Jesus came so that everyone receives the opportunity for healing and living abundantly. His sacrifice reaches the depths of sin and His forgiveness touches the darkest heart. I have forgiven my abuser, and live in a spirit of grace toward him and all who have found themselves trapped in this scenario. Furthermore, I am not pronouncing judgment upon the current condition of my abuser’s heart. I hope he has also found healing. I want healing for all victims and abusers alike. I pray for that. I pray that healing will sweep through the churches so that marriages can be saved. That is my ultimate dream.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on HopeGlimmering.com
Featured image by Emma Simpson